FIFA scores own goal with ticket policy

JOHANNESBURG - FIFA's ticketing policy was an "enormous blunder" that has kept many African fans away from the first World Cup on their continent, according to a new football author.

Of nearly 3 million seats available for the month-long tournament in South Africa, only an estimated 40,000 have gone to fans from other parts of the continent.

While the cost of travel, security fears and the global recession have played their part, critics say organisers' decision to offer ticket purchases mainly via Internet and credit card were a bigger deterrent for Africans.

"It's brilliant the tournament is finally in Africa. But it's such a shame so few Africans are here because it was so difficult for them to buy tickets. That was an enormous blunder by FIFA and the organisers," Steve Bloomfield told Reuters.

"I have friends in Nigeria who wanted to be here, but who accepts a Nigerian credit card? Just how hard would it have been, instead, to sell 5,000 tickets in a bank in Lagos for every Nigerian game?"

The English author said the banning of informal hawkers - a mainstay of African life - from the immediate environs of stadiums also showed FIFA was out of touch with the continent.

"Even the official song, which has the lyrics 'this time for Africa', is sung by a Colombian," Bloomfield added of South American pop star Shakira who sang the tournament anthem.

"They've made such a big thing about how this World Cup is for Africa, but these things just add to claims FIFA has been happy to use Africa as a backdrop but not really done enough to make it a truly African tournament. It is a missed opportunity."

FIFA, football's governing body, has recognised mistakes and plans to change its ticket system for Brazil 2014.


Bloomfield's book, "Africa United", is a celebration of the unifying power of football in nations like Ivory Coast where Didier Drogba and the other "Elephants" helped promote peace, or Somalia where football provides a rare distraction from war.

It also shows, however, how the Beautiful Game can have the opposite effect, heightening nationalistic rivalries - such as between Chad and Sudan, or Egypt and Algeria - and mirroring corruption and incompetence from Zimbabwe to Kenya.

On all the author's travels, though, there was no doubting the importance to Africans of their first World Cup.

"It is enormous for anyone in Africa who loves football, and that means most people," he said. "For so long all their best players have been going to Europe, now all the best players from Europe and the rest of the world are coming here."

With six teams in the tournament, Bloomfield tipped South Africa, Ghana and Ivory Coast as the best African hopes.

Despite an abundance of talent, from Drogba to Samuel Eto'o, to rival any other continent, disorganisation in local leagues and federations was hampering progress, and the long-awaited African breakthrough would not come this time, he said.

"Africa's World Cup it may be, but you won't see an African semi-finalist, let alone a winner - though I hope I'm wrong."

Bloomfield singled out Nigeria's chaotic preparation, including a change in coach, cancelled friendlies in England, and flight and hotel problems. "After all that, I am amazed they only lost 1-0 to Argentina," he said.

"Football is such a perfect metaphor for what happens in a country. In Nigeria you have so many talented young players but they are held back by chaotic, corrupt management."

So when the best African players return to Europe, and the World Cup ends on July 11, what will the legacy be?

Bloomfield said he hoped South Africa, with a higher profile and more TV money for its domestic league, would now become an attractive alternative to young talent from the region.

"My hope is that it becomes the place where all the best players in Africa think they should be. For that, you need a thriving economy, and South Africa is getting there."

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