Ticket sales surge but fewer foreign fans coming

JOHANNESBURG - More than 100,000 World Cup tickets have been sold in less than two days since cash sales began in South Africa, but the likely number of foreign fans has been halved, chief organiser Danny Jordaan said.

Over-the-counter sales of tickets in South Africa, which began on Thursday, ignited real World Cup fever here for the first time and there was chaos as thousands of fans rushed to buy, crashing the computer system.

MATCH, the travel agent arm of football's governing body FIFA, apologised for the problems, during which fans fought in queues after waiting for hours.

Police used pepper spray on brawling fans in Pretoria and a pensioner died of a heart attack in Cape Town.

Jordaan, boss of the local organising committee, told Reuters on Friday that 101,000 tickets had been sold in the final phase before the World Cup kicks off on June 11. Some 12,000 were international sales and the rest in South Africa.

He said only seven of the 64 matches still had tickets available in the special $20 category available only to South Africans. All matches of the national team Bafana Bafana and most games with the other five African squads were sold out.

FIFA said tickets for 29 of the 64 World Cup matches were no longer available including the July 11 final, two semi-finals, the June 11 opening match and all matches in Durban and Cape Town.

But it said a small number of returned tickets could still come back on the market.

Jordaan said estimates for the number of foreign fans coming for the World Cup, hit by the global economic slump, high air fares and accommodation costs, had been revised to around 200,000, compared to the original forecast of 450,000.

He appealed to South Africans last week to snap up the remaining 500,000 tickets from a total of 2.7 million, after seats were returned from overseas and corporate customers.

He said on Friday the response was "Tremendous....they reacted with huge enthusiasm and some of them spent 15 hours waiting for a ticket."

He said the last time South Africans lined up like this was in 1994 when they elected Nelson Mandela in the polls that ended apartheid. "It was a wonderful experience to see," he said.

SURPRISE AT RESPONSE

Asked if he expected all the remaining tickets to be sold, Jordaan said he was surprised how many had gone already considering sales started before workers were paid on Fridays or the end of the month.

"We are just into the second day and over 100,000 were sold. We are very happy with the way things are going. We will see more at the end of the month," he said.

There were queues again on Friday outside ticket offices and some fans returned after waiting for hours on Thursday but the atmosphere was much calmer and the computer system was functioning better, witnesses said.

Jordaan said the number of foreigners arriving for the World Cup would be similar to the last long haul tournament in South Korea and Japan.

He said at the last World Cup in Germany in 2006, the big European fan base could come for single matches, boosting attendance but not the economic impact.

"Of course we cannot compare with Germany because it sits in the middle of Europe... South Africa is a long haul destination so we expect fans to come in and stay for a long period and therefore the (economic) impact will be greater," he said.

Jordaan said the biggest economic impact for South Africa would come from FIFA spending, which amounted to about $1 billion, followed by commercial sponsors and the local organising committee which is spending 3.2 billion rand ($431 million).

FIFA initially made tickets available only on the internet and was criticised for misunderstanding South African culture where the poor fans who are football's biggest supporters do not have access to computers or bank accounts.

FIFA officials acknowledged the error and launched cash sales from ticket offices on Thursday.

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