29 June 2009

South Africa: Calabash, the Jewel of 2010 Fifa World Cup

Johannesburg — From afar, it looks like a calabash although big in size. The Soccer City stadium, christened the Calabash because of its shape is the biggest attraction as you drive to Bloemfontein and Soweto.

The stadium, currently under construction, is set to be the biggest in South Africa. The Soccer City, along with other ten stadiums, will host the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Situated less than 10km from the centre of Johannesburg, the Soccer City is a marvel to the eyes.

International construction company Interbeton and its local giant partners Grinaker -LTA won the tender to construct the stadium at an estimated Shs374b ($174m).

The constructors are, however, battling against time to complete the Calabash, a venue for the opening and final matches of the World Cup.

The stadium will also host four other first round matches as well as one quarter-final.

Interbeton also constructed the 40,000 all-seater Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg and the 50,000-capacity Nelson Mandela stadium in Port Elizabeth which was opened on June 7 this year. Nelson Mandela will host five first-round matches, one second round tie, one quarter final and the third place play-off.

Soccer City will accommodate up to 94,700 people after its upper tiers are extended. It has about184suites which include private boxes, VIP seats, eight television presenting studios, a soccer museum and a restaurant which can accommodate 300 people.

A parking area that will accommodate 15,000 vehicles is being constructed. Also being put in place near the Calabash is the International Broadcasting Centre (IBC), which will host the world's media during the one-month tournament. The South African Soccer Federation (Safa) House that serves as the headquarters for Fifa and Local Organising Committee (LOC) is already in place next to the stadium as well.

Original FNB Stadium

Brian Carter, a building manager with Grinaker -LTA, said that Soccer City is being constructed to replace the FNB Stadium that was demolished.

He explained that 95 percent of the FNB Stadium was razed before construction of the Calabash could begin. The FNB, constructed in 1987, was synonymous with South African football. Through the years, it hosted big matches in the country including the historical Africa Nations Cup final between Bafana Baafana and Tunisia in 1996.South Africa won the final 2-0 with both goals coming from the now retired Mark Williams.

The FNB stadium also hosted derby Premier Soccer League (PSL) matches between Soweto rival teams Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. Besides soccer, the FNB is also remembered for the mass rally held in 1990 to welcome former South African President Nelson Mandela from prison. About 100,000 people jammed the stadium to hear Madiba call for a unified South Africa.

All that history is now gone with the FNB stadium and South Africans are anxiously awaiting the completion of the Calabash. "It is the biggest roofed stadium ever built for the Word Cup finals. It will undoubtedly earn a place among the best soccer venues of the world such as the Olympic stadium in Berlin, the Stadio San Siro in Milan, new Wembley in London and the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid," with lots of optimism, Carter, said.

African culture

Construction of the Calabash got underway in January 2007 and is expected to be completed by October 2009, according to Carter. "We have completed nearly 80% of our work inside the stadium. We are still on target to hand over the stadium as scheduled," Carter told international journalists on a visit to the site. He added: "The grass for the pitch is available but we can't plant it because of the winter conditions. We shall do the grass planting between August and September."

However, he said that work outside the stadium will go on until December irrespective of the weather conditions. The most unique feature of the stadium is its shape. Some wanted it constructed in the shape of an African tree and others the mine dam but it's the calabash that carried the day. "The calabash was picked because of being a unique African object and recognisable symbol of the continent," Carter explained.

He elaborated further on the shape: "The Calabash or 'melting pot of African culture', sits on a raised podium. On top of it, there is a 'pit of fire'. Spectators and the world-wide television audiences will be left with the impression that they are sitting inside this giant cauldron." Carter said the stadium has ten grey areas in spectators' seating places.

He explained: "Each of the vertical lines represents the other nine venues for the World Cup. They face the direction of each stadium. The tenth was designed to represent Berlin, the stadium that hosted the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The vertical lines will have the scores from those stadiums," he said. Asked why they had to include Berlin, Carter answered: "In our culture, nine is considered a number of bad luck. That is why we added Berlin to make 10."

Construction of the giant structure has, however, been hampered by trade union actions, something that seems to bother Carter and company. "The workers are part of up to 50,000 National Union of Mine-workers (NUM) members who have issued strike threats. The union is demanding a 15% wage increment yet the employer is now offering an increased offer of 8.5% from the initial 7.5%. These issues of industrial action have come at this crucial time of the year," he lamented. Over 2,500 workers report for duty at 7 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. "It is tiresome working nearly six days a week," one of the workers told Scoreline magazine. Some of the workers earn around Shs45, 000 (R150) per day. Yet this is without transport to take them back home from work. All factors remaining constant, Soccer City, also known as the jewel in the crown, will define the first World Cup to be hosted on the African continent.

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