Where in the world are the fans?
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
A solitary fan watches the World Cup match between Australia and Germany at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. (REUTERS/Paul Hanna)
CAPE TOWN -- It was the first game for England and the United States in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa last Saturday.
The game was played in the agricultural and mining community of Rustenburg, a city with the population of about one million.
Usually any city that plays host to an England game sees many thousands of U.K. fans pouring into their city.
But on Saturday, it was more of a dribble. An event that would normally see 50,000 English fans in attendance saw half of that.
Before the World Cup, Football Supporters Federation’s Kevin Miles said that only around 25,000 England fans would make the trip to South Africa, compared to 200,000 who travelled to Germany in 2006.
It isn’t just the English. There are fewer fans from every country travelling to this World Cup than have in the past.
And it isn’t just Rustenburg. It’s other centres as well.
Distance is the big factor, but not the biggest reason for the decline.
FIFA was determined to award the World Cup to a country that had a reputation for crime and infrastructure problems.
Then there was greed -- FIFA’s greed and many business and merchant greed in the cities where the World Cup games are being held.
Sunday night, a night before Italy and Paraguay was supposed to play, one didn’t need a reservation in one of the most popular waterfront restaurant in the Western Cape in Cape Town.
“Where are all the people who were suppose to come?” asked Stella, a waitress at the restaurant. “We were expecting so many more people and we haven’t seen anything.”
Guest houses on the outskirts of Cape Town are feeling the same pinch. They have nowhere near the business they expected.
Fear is one reason many fans opted to stay home. South Africa has about 50 murders a day. Rapes and robberies are daily occurances especially in Johannesburg.
No one wants to fear for their lives on a daily basis when they are on vacation.
Then there’s the cost. Some businesses saw this as an opportunity to make the Golden Goose work overtime.
Many hotel and guest house establishments allowed their rooms to be rented by FIFA through an accommodation agency Match Event, a branch of Match Hospitality.
They blocked out thousands of rooms to be rented. The prices were jacked up considerably, some by as much as 1,000%.
Many places required a minimum three-day stay even if your team was only playing one game in that particular city. There were as many as 55,000 hotel rooms booked in this manner.
FIFA would receive a portion of the money back from the inflated hotel prices.
The results were predictable. Thousand and thousands of room went unbooked and the owners of those rooms had to keep them off the market until early April as per FIFA contract.
The prices also hurt owners of hotels and guest houses who simply wanted to fill their rooms at their regular prices.
“It’s a day before the game and we have only one guest,” said Trevor Kruger who owns a guest house on the outskirts of the city.
“And because of the costs and fears, the people travelling are not travelling with their wives. We have some guests staying here, but they are single men. They can’t afford to travel with their wives.”
Fans are spending the money somewhere. On the days leading up to the opening game for England, a report said that English fans that stayed home spend 500,000 pounds for such things as food and high definition televisions.
FIFA recently revisited their estimate that an anticipated 750,000 fans were expected to come to South Africa from out of country. That number dropped to 200,000.
Greed may be good for Gordon Gekko on Wall Street but it killed the Golden Goose in this World Cup.