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Field of dreams could turn to World Cup nightmare

You see one of your friends do something good and you take your ball home and learn to do it yourself. Next day, you're back and say to them: 'Look. I can do that, too'.

His name is Sibeko. He's 13. I met him last year on a piece of unkempt grassland, his football pitch, in the township of Athlone, a half-hour drive from the affluent suburbs of Cape Town. He was showing off to his team-mates, balancing himself on the well-worn football. He was good. He showed potential.

Whether it's Athlone, Guguletu or Khayelitsha, the townships of the Mother City, or any township in Johannesburg or Durban, wherever there is a piece of wasteland, and there is much of it, you will find a make-shift football pitch, rickety goalposts and all.

White South Africans may have their rugby and their cricket, but football is the all-consuming passion for black Africans from the time they are old enough kick a can or papier-mache-made football around.

And, like Sibeko, they all want to grow up to play football for their country some day. Some, aware of the greater earning potential, have set their sights on European clubs. And so playing host to next month's World Cup makes them proud like peacocks.

When it was originally announced that South Africa would host the games in 2010, the mouths of those hoping the event would bring in revenue, boost tourism and put the newly independent country firmly on the world stage began to water.

But amid South Africa's and FIFA's efforts to ensure such an outcome, there were growing fears that access to the games - in nine different locations - would be well outside the remit of the ordinary South African, young lads like Sibeko for whom all this was one big dream come true.

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For access to tickets was up to recently via credit card and online booking and obviously aimed at attracting hordes of overseas fans following their qualifying country to sunny South Africa.

Sadly, the reality is that online access and credit cards are not the everyday tools of Sibeko and millions of South Africans.

With less than a month before the World Cup comes the news that the host cities are desperately trying to come up with models to generate money to cover the exorbitant costs of maintaining stadiums after the tournament.

Some stadiums would need between R10m to R70m-a-year (£900,000-£6.5m) for vital maintenance to be carried out.

The new Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane would need such a sum for maintenance, says the city's 2010 director, Ndahve Ramakuela.But what is also unnerving is that this week figures released show that the number of tourists flying into South Africa for the World Cup is far removed from projected figures.

Now most of the fans filling the seats at the 64 matches at the 2010 World Cup will be, or will have to be, South Africans.

It it is also reported that South Africans have snapped up tickets in a last-minute surge, with 300,000 sold in the last few weeks. But that is only since the authorities stopped online and credit card bookings as being the only means to get to a game.

Hopefully, it is not too little, too late for young Sibeko and his friends whom I watched one late summer evening last year on a broken stretch of dry veld as they kicked around a busted football, aiming to be top of the world.


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