Wednesday, March 24, 2010

World Cup 2010 - South Africa

A big question mark hangs over the 2010 World Cup - one of the most-watched sporting events on the planet. That is, will South Africa be ready for this massive, month-long celebration of one of the world's most popular sports?

South African officials say emphatically that the answer is "Yes!" and bristle at any suggestion otherwise.

My family - wife, 13-year-old daughter and I - are planning a trip to South Africa in June and July, where we will attend soccer matches in Cape Town and Durban, and enjoy the wildlife at Kruger National Park and other locations around the country.

Most of the South Africans we have dealt with have been helpful, friendly and efficient. But our experience with the national train service, Shosholoza Meyl, which translates to "a pleasant experience," has left me wondering what's in store after we arrive in Johannesburg.

Although we've been working on our bookings for accommodations, transport, match tickets, etc. for nearly a year, we were told by the train's reservation agents that bookings for the overnight tourist-class sleeper train had to be made no more than 90 days in advance. No information about any schedule or route changes was put on the train's Web site, or disseminated through its representatives.

Now that we are only 78 days from the start of the World Cup, on June 11, the train service has announced major changes to its routes, schedules and prices. It's as if the train's management just realized the World Cup is coming to South Africa!

One change is that all tourist-class service from Johannesburg to Cape Town - one of the most popular and needed routes - has been eliminated during the World Cup period.

So, instead of settling back to a relaxing train ride and watching the countryside roll by after flying nearly 16 hours from Atlanta to JoBurg, we'll be hopping on a two-hour flight to Cape Town. Not the way we wanted to start our trip.

My family and I can only hope that important infrastructure, from roads and stadiums to security and health facilities, will be better managed than the national train system, which to an outsider seems fraught with disorganization and unresponsive to visitors' basic transportation needs.

In other words, we are hoping South Africa is ready for its big moment on the world stage.

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