(HN, June 19, 2010) -- Alhassan Rano is technologically advanced compared to the average resident of Nigeria’s Kano state. With an advanced laptop and Nokia phone - and with accounts on Gmail and Facebook - he is able to communicate with the outside world with ease.
But with 20-plus hours of daily power outages and dial-up connectivity speeds, it’s often a challenge to surf the web, let alone attempt online shopping. Moreover, the health worker has no credit card to divert part of his meager wages to online shopping.
When FIFA announced that the first-ever World Cup to be held on the African continent would be in South Africa in June 2010, soccer-crazed Africans greeted the news with a collective glee. Many - like Alhassan - dreamed of traveling to the wealthiest country in Africa to catch some of the matches.
Tickets for the World Cup 2010 first went on sale on February 20, 2009, followed by four additional sales phases.
Speak to most Southern Africans and the common refrain is that FIFA “didn't take into account the needs of the locals,” as put by Mboni, a young male soccer fan from Johannesburg who spoke to HUMNEWS today at a mostly empty public fan park in the centre of town.
Despite pronouncements by South African FIFA organizing chief Danny Jordaan that “we want this to be a World Cup for Africa,” selling tickets almost exclusively online froze many Africans out of the action and out of the stadiums. According to Internet World Stats, Internet penetration in Africa was only 6.7% in the second quarter of 2009 - compared to a worldwide average of 24.7%.
Even in host country, South Africa, there are less than 5-million Internet users in a country with a population of almost 50-million.
Aside from the difficulty of obtaining even one of the some 3-million tickets made available - many matches sold out within hours - the cost of intra-Africa flights (a weekend flight to Johannesburg clocks in at $2600) and accommodation in South Africa would have made a trip to the World Cup out of the question for someone like Alhassan in Nigeria.
Indeed, at Saturday's matches with teams from Cameroon and Ghana, few fans from either country were visible in the stands, even with sizeable Diaspora communities in Johannesburg.
Not being able to afford World Cup tickets is not limited to out-of-towners. Many expatriates in South African complain of ticket prices as high as $900 (for the Category One final) - IF they are available. Those with resident cards have had access to as many as 15,000 discounted tickets - some as low as about $20.
One Johannesburg-based business writer said that even in South Africa, credit cards are out of reach of millions. Those who have them either distrust submitting their credit card details or do not know how to use online purchasing. “We are about as inclined to give our credit card details as going to live on the moon,” she said.
While the several fan parks in host cities have become popular free venues to take in the games via huge screens, some fans say FIFA didn’t take into account that the World Cup would be taking place in winter. Indeed, this evening, there were only a hand full of fans at the free fan park in Newtown in Johannesburg - many driven away by temperatures hovering around freezing.
One retired resident of Soweto told HUMNEWS that, with a pension of only about $150-a-month, there was no way he could afford tickets to any of the games. "If I take 150 Rand out of the 1,000 Rand I don’t have anything left for essentials,” he said.
Many tickets were put onto the local market closer to the opening day of the World Cup, but by then it was too late for many South Africans. “We have a tendency to leave things to the last minute,” said Mboni. “It’s hard to change plans at the last minute.”
--Reporting and photo by HUMNEWS staff, Johannesburg, SA