Struggling South Africans to get free tickets

SOWETO, South Africa - Some 120,000 free tickets will be given away for next year's World Cup to ensure that poor South Africans, the biggest local fans of the game, can attend, organisers said on Friday.

Officials are concerned that despite a special category of some of the cheapest tickets in World Cup history, poor blacks will not come to matches, robbing the event of the noisy and colourful atmosphere that is one of the biggest draws of holding the tournament in Africa for the first time.

Danny Jordaan, head of the local organising committee, said 40,000 of the free tickets would be given to workers who built or updated the 10 stadiums. The rest will go to social projects funded by the game's six major sponsors.

"We have done everything possible to bring ticket prices lower but still a large segment of the population will not be able to buy tickets. Therefore, this is something I am very proud of," he said.

FIFA said in a statement: "The Ticket Fund aims to use the excitement and passion for the game in the country as a tool to motivate and engage people, particularly young South Africans on topics such as education, health and environment."

Despite a recent wave of strikes, which included construction workers, Jordaan said stadiums were on schedule.

About 450,000 foreign fans are expected for the World Cup and 28 of the 64 matches are already sold out.