Bring on the next World Cup

By Matt Nippert

Rugby World Cup organisers watched intently as their soccer equivalent played out in South Africa. It went smoothly, but there were some notable hitches. Matt Nippert asks what we've learned from the mistakes.

For Rustenburg, the Fifa World Cup meant a new graveyard.

The Bafokeng Royal Stadium in the city in North West Province, had an $80 million makeover for the tournament and the traffic management plan delivered a vast park-and-ride lot to smooth the transport of fans to the games, which included New Zealand's first-up 1-1 draw with Slovakia.

Now it's over, the stadium will host local teams playing rugby and football. And that parking lot? It's to be converted to a cemetery. The old one, thanks to poverty and HIV, was full.

On the other side of the world, another country is planning for a world cup. Martin Snedden, chief executive of Rugby World Cup 2011, has been watching events in South Africa with interest and is pleased to see his football counterparts get pass marks from the media and emerge with smiles on their faces.

"Every major event goes through a cycle," he says, "generally starting with euphoria with winning the bid, and then anxiety over whether they can deliver, and then confidence. And then reality hits."

Right now, we're understandably anxious that some things seen in South Africa are likely to occur here next year. At some World Cup matches, beer cost more than twice as much as was charged at the same venue during Super 14 rugby games - which was in turn twice what was asked during local football games.

Fans delayed by traffic jams left thousands of empty seats at the opening ceremony and a semi-final. And disappointing action on the field can bleed off it, says Snedden.

"There's a general feeling of let-down from South Africa in terms of soccer entertainment. Put aside the All Whites - that was fantastic - but the sport didn't do itself justice. There's not too many memorable moments, apart from the handball and the disallowed goals."

Snedden talks to councils and Cabinet ministers and liaises between international and local rugby unions. What happens once the whistle blows is out of his hands, but there are things Snedden, and New Zealand as a whole, can do. Some lessons have already been learned from the South African experience (the droning vuvuzela has already been banned!) but there's plenty more for this nation to learn.

Don't be a sore loser

The South African team failed to progress past the group stage, yet the nation rallied around the event and kept the smiles coming.

Expectations for the All Blacks, however, are far higher than for Bafana Bafana, as the team is called at home. Losses at past Rugby World Cups have received extensive coverage - often more than the eventual winners.

The 43-31 loss to France in the 1999 World Cup semi-finals is regarded by the Observer of London as one of the greatest games ever played but the game - and indeed the entire tournament - is remembered as just another anguished footnote in the story of World Cup failures.

This one-eyed focus is such that Victoria University psychology professor Marc Wilson found that many Kiwis can't even recall that Australia went on to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.

"I've done some surveys, and many New Zealanders think France won that World Cup," says Wilson.

Martin Snedden says parochial narrow-mindedness is a big challenge: "If we don't get our head around hosting responsibilities - and instead get tied up in the fortunes of the All Blacks - we put at risk the success of the tournament."

If the nation turns sour after an early All Black exit, the effect could flow on, creating surly crowds on the street and at games, and reducing attendance at public venues.

Dr Marc Falcous, a senior lecturer at Otago University's School of Physical Education, says investing our national ego so heavily in rugby has over-leveraged the nation and it might be time to rebalance the ledger.

"It leaves you pretty fragile if you put all your national identity eggs in the one rugby basket. I don't think it's especially healthy."

Brace for fewer tourists

When South Africa first won the bid to host the Fifa World Cup, the boosters claimed 750,000 tourists would flood the republic for the event.

But, as kickoff date loomed, and the recession cut bloody chunks out of the international travel market, these estimates steadily dropped. The reality hints at what New Zealand can expect next year.

Annual tourism figures released by the South African Government last week suggest the revised target of 450,000 World Cup tourists was reached, but overall tourist numbers in the year to June were only 200,000 up on the previous year.

This discrepancy is due to what economists call "crowding out": numbers of potential non-sporting visitors declined, as they avoided the saturation football and the congestion that came with the Cup.

A Herald on Sunday investigation in May into over-optimistic economic projections found that RWC2011 planners hadn't accounted for crowding out, and Snedden is doing his best to dampen down expectations. His team predicts 65,000 Cup-related tourists and he's not buying into recent estimates from others that claim up to 85,000 could be headed our way.

"There's a real danger in leading people down the track of expecting huge numbers, because the let-down impact could be incredibly strong," says Snedden.

Manage costs

Cost overruns are the plague of any huge sporting event, and South Africa did not escape. The spectacular venue that hosted the opening ceremony and the final, Soccer City in Johannesburg, cost $581 million to renovate, 50 per cent more than originally budgeted.

The story of Soccer City was repeated across the Rainbow Nation as public expenditure reached $5.9 billion - double that originally predicted.

This problems seem likely to be repeated in New Zealand, if on a much smaller scale. The Treasury estimated in 2005 that Rugby World Cup would leave a $70 million hole in the Government accounts, but a Herald on Sunday tally of costs to taxpayers and ratepayers has already reached $562 million.

The biggest possibility for further blow-outs is with stadium construction, and Snedden's keeping a close eye on major projects, including Eden Park's redevelopment and Dunedin's race to complete the new Forsyth Barr Stadium in time to host three pool games.

"Eden Park is staying exactly within budget, Christchurch was finished under budget, and Napier was finished just under as well. The other big one is Dunedin - and there don't seem to be any budget overruns, but there are still 14 months to go," says Snedden.

Fill the grounds

New Zealand fans in South Africa treated attendance at All White games as compulsory, but the rest of the world considered our matches to be a curiosity.

Tournament-wide, attendance rates were 92.9 per cent, but looking at the crowd numbers for the three matches played by Ryan Nelsen's team shows how hard it is to fill grounds where minnows are playing and the host nation isn't.

The All Whites' opening match against Slovakia - in a stadium with a capacity of 42,000 - was watched by a crowd of only 23,871.

The following matches against Paraguay, and even heavyweight drawcards Italy, were also played in stadiums where thousands of seats were left empty.

Next year the knockout rounds are nearly certain to sell out. Snedden says problems with lacklustre demand won't come with games like Fiji v Namibia in Rotorua or Canada v Japan in Napier, but pool matches in big centres where locals might save their rugby money for the bigger games.

"Hawkes Bay is hosting only two matches and it's their moment in the sun. They'll rise to the occasion.

"The biggest risk we've got in terms of filling stadiums still rests around the big pool matches in the main centres that don't involve the All Blacks."

Australia v Russia in Christchurch, Scotland v Georgia in Dunedin, and France v Tonga in Wellington loom as matches where empty seats may undermine the sense of spectacle at the ground and on the screen.

Sensible law enforcementSouth Africa's reputation as crime-ridden led to expectations the World Cup would be marred by violence.

But after the hosts flooded the streets with 41,000 extra police, who also turned into stadium stewards when strike action threatened to derail several key matches, the country won plaudits for its public safety.

Perversely New Zealand, without such a criminal reputation, has everything to lose. One high-profile crime during the tournament involving an international competitor or tourist could mar our international reputation for years.

The theft of some camera and editing equipment from a TVNZ cameraman's South African hotel room led One News here.

Says Snedden: "The host country is put under an international spotlight. It's underestimated in New Zealand the degree of international scrutiny we will come under. There's an upside and a downside - either will be disproportionately large."

And while criminal offending is a concern, the possibility of commercial skulduggery also contains potential public relations nightmares.

Two Dutch women were prosecuted in South Africa for wearing dresses provided by a brewer - and faced the possibility of six months in jail for the crime of "ambush marketing".

Such punitive action was probably counter-productive. The furore over the possibility of jail time for wearing orange miniskirts gave a little-known Bavaria brewery wide international media coverage. Widely derided, Fifa defended the decision to prosecute by saying that New Zealand had passed similar legislation in preparation for RWC 2011.

The law in question, the Major Events Management Act, passed in 2007, allows for fines - not jail time - for those who try to usurp the rights of big-name sponsors through ambush marketing.

Snedden is keenly aware of events in South Africa and hopes not to repeat those bungles.

"The Bavarian thing was not a sensible enforcement of the law. There's a real onus on us to make sure there's a balanced approach to this."

And will the International Rugby Board be allowed, as Fifa were in South Africa, to prosecute and impose sentences for Cup-related crimes? Snedden says no.

Keep transport moving

South Africa - like New Zealand - is a country where the car is king, and their World Cup was spread across the whole country. The strain of transporting vast numbers of fans across the republic showed and fans going to the out-of-the-way venue in Rustenburg reportedly spent hours waiting to exit the stadium carpark.

But the worst example of traffic congestion came from an unexpected quarter: airport runways being clogged with private jets.

On the day of the semi-final between Germany and Spain, there was three times the usual traffic at Durban's King Shaka International Airport. Private jets ferrying officials, celebrities and royals were given precedence over commercial flights and several hundred fans - and several Fifa officials - missed the game as a result.

Snedden says that New Zealand - a First-World country with better transport infrastructure - should avoid the worst of the problems seen in South Africa.

Holding the tournament in tourism's off-season should mean fewer visitors in the country than are usually seen in December and January - but there's a caveat.

The real crunch will be at the business end of the tournament, in the final two weeks when, Snedden admits, capacity could be stretched.

Problems in the air - or rather on the runway - could occur on the Mainland: at Dunedin airport, which has a similar level of traffic to Durban's, and Christchurch, where day-trippers are likely to fly in and out for the quarter-finals, tarmac snarl-ups could be repeated.

It's worth noting even if the South African example holds true, Prince William's planned itinerary shouldn't be jeopardised. Spain's King Juan Carlos and movie royalty Charlize Theron were two whose private jets helped cause the runway congestion in Durban - but both were ushered to their seats in time to see Spain progress to the final.

- Herald on Sunday

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