Every thing considered, the South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup project is already a monumental success story even though it just started six days ago. Last October, I was in South Africa and I saw the magnitude of the preparations. Work was going on almost everywhere. The roads were being expanded, new roads being built, the construction and reconstruction of FIFAâ€™s 10 required stadia were in top gear, the issue of security was placed on top of the agenda, the hotels were putting finishing touches, the parks were getting set, the safaris, etc. were not left behind.
Everything that needed to be done was being done. To every South African, there was a destination and the destination is to host the world successfully. Courtesy of MTN Nigeria, I returned to South Africa on June 10 2010 to watch the opening ceremony and the opening match between South Africa and Mexico. I was stunned by what I saw on ground from Oliver Tambo International Airport. It is unbelievable. South Africa was prepared for the world. They were ready to host the world. South Africa was ready to stage the greatest show on earth.
On a visit to the Soccer City Stadium shortly before the kick off one of the organizers Gaith Hewitt had this to say: â€œThe world as we know it about to be changed forever. South Africa is about to experience a phenomenon the likes of which Africa has never seen. The impact will be that of a tsunami, albeit instead of destruction we are talking reconstruction. But the force and impact will be no less and will be felt far and wide throughout the country.â€ I saw this myself and he spoke the truth.
Prodigious work was put in place and it took a lot of commitment from the leaders of South Africa to get this done. Any quality job anywhere in the world did not come by accident. It happened because there visionary zeal, good intentions, creative thinking, diligent planning, team work, and intelligent execution.
Preparations did the huge job and this is a lesson to other countries in Africa, Nigeria in particular. I am told that 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa is going to be bigger than what happened in Germany in 2006. 450,000 international tourists are being expected, 3.2 million tickets to be sold, a cumulative TV audience of nearly 30 billion, to be broadcast to 214 nations on 376 channels and a record of 18, 850 media representatives will be accredited.
On Friday, June 11 2010, I saw it all live at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg . The 95,000 capacity Soccer City had 86,000 people in attendance. The weather was not too bad, the soccer city itself was a total masterpiece. The opening ceremony gave me extra ordinary joy. And when one of the musicians sang that â€˜it is a sign of victory for South Africa and Africa â€™ I agreed! South Africa made us proud, and I am also glad Nigeria is there. On Saturday June 12 2010 attention shifted to Ellis Park Stadium Johannesburg for the Nigeria/Argentina match. We got there right on time with other dignitaries from Nigeria, including Senators, Reps members, Ministers, Commissioners, Advisers etc.
Inside the Stadium, we looked round and discovered to our utmost dismay that Nigerians are not inside the stadium. Everywhere you look at, Argentinesâ€™ blue-white jersey confronts you mercilessly. We felt embarrassed at the turn of event. Where are Nigerians? Almost everybody was complaining. Explanations were sought and we were meant to understand that there were Visa restrictions for Nigerians at the South African Embassy in Nigeria while they threw their gates wide open for Argentines to have blanket access to South Africa. This is curious and unacceptable. Nigerian government must investigate this grave matter and act accordingly.
What we saw in Ellis Park Stadium was an insult and I felt bad. The intimidating presence of the Argentines in their thousands out of 65,856 spectators must have brought a psychological breakdown on our players and consequently contributed to our defeat. We need to know what happened! On Monday morning June 14 2010 we returned to Nigeria but the memories of what was on ground in South Africa continued to prick my conscience. If what I saw in South Africa in terms of structures is anything to go by, I may not see Nigeria hosting the World Cup in my lifetime. Signs of readiness were there for the world to see â€“ the roads, highways, stadia, hotels, airports, and an underground railway system have been excellently and meticulously put in place to meet the deadline.
I wondered whether Nigeria will be able to put this kind of structures in place in Nigeria for an event like this. I remember the memories of Sandton Shopping Mall in the night of June 11, 2010 where thousands of foreigners were eating, drinking and enjoying themselves. Do we have this kind of malls in Nigeria? I do not think so.
Minus the issue of security, I think South Africa has successfully moved from third world to the first world. Security is a big problem in South Africa . Years of segregation and apartheid in South Africa took many men out of school and rendered them useless, hopeless and helpless. They are poor and their children are poor in South Africa . The gap between the poor black South Africans and the rich white South Africans is so wide to be comfortable and unless the whites make a paradigm shift and go extra mile to bring the blacks to something near to their level, there may be no peace in South Africa. Security will therefore continue to be a problem. I was told a nationâ€™s National Team and the whole entourage were robbed of all their belongings in their hotel. This is no good news for South Africa . We were even restricted from going to certain areas in South Africa . It is that bad.However, I thoroughly enjoyed the world most imported event, courtesy of MTN Nigeria.
When Garth Hewitt says no event captures the imagination of the entire world in the way the FIFA World Cup does I give it to him that he is saying the obvious. The bomb exploded in South Africa and I am a living witness. Words are not enough to thank MTN Nigeria for their hospitality. Their hospitality team that took care of us in South Africa was fantastic. Hours on end they worked round the clock to make us comfortable and it was fantastically done. One particular woman, Laura Vandevemter of MTN South Africa was terrific, a workaholic and on ground. I was fascinated by her commitment to little details and hard work. May God bless this great woman and her colleagues.
It was lifetime experience.The huge lesson is here for Nigeria to learn from. One good Airport in Nigeria is better than all the Airports in Nigeria put together. Ten good universities in Nigeria are better than 100 universities in Nigeria . Ten standard and world class stadia are better than 50 stadia in Nigeria that are substandard. The road to the first world is a ten lane expressway at least for Nigeria, and I believe we can get there if we do some growing up. What we need is PREPARATIONS in everything we do, and other things will follow. Thank you MTN Nigeria for this lifetime experience.
â€¢Igbokwe wrote from Lagos.