JOHANNESBURG // While millions of football-loving Africans continue to celebrate the first World Cup to be held on their continent, the legacy of the month-long tournament will become truly apparent only after all 32 teams - and their wallet-wielding supporters - have departed. The immigration office of South Africa reported last month that the number of foreign tourists that have arrived in the country exceeded the prediction of 450,000 - an estimate that, in the months before the event, had been steadily decreased in part due to the worldwide recession and heightened concern regarding the nation's crime rate. The impact of this first African World Cup cannot, of course, be judged simply on the number of international visitors arriving at the country's airports. It must be analysed in terms of projected tourism growth, improvements made to the country's infrastructure and the South African economy's post-tournament financial position.
The hope for the country's tourism authority is that, with violent crimes nowhere near as prominent as predicted, World Cup tourists will leave with fond memories, telling tales of their trip to all who will listen.
Add to worldwide word of mouth the thrice-daily 90-minute "adverts" that were broadcast globally every day for the first two weeks of the tournament and it is little wonder that South Africa is confident its status as a tourist destination can only grow exponentially. Jerry Vilakazi, chief executive of Business Unity South Africa, posed a question: "How can you put a figure on or measure the pictures being broadcast to hundreds of millions of people globally of our country every day?"
The answer, of course, is that you cannot. But some South African consultancy agents are willing to try their best. Grant Thornton Consulting, a US firm with offices in Johannesburg, has predicted the country is on track to reap 8.8 billion rand (Dh4.2bn) from tourism during the World Cup, while the four per cent decrease in tourism felt in 2009 that was bought on by the recession, is already long forgotten.
While any projected tourism growth figures are conjecture, no guesswork is involved in gauging the improvements to the country's infrastructure. South Africa has spent 40bn rand on providing better public transport: pot-holed roads have been relaid, complemented by rail lines and bus lanes. The Gautrain, Africa's first high-speed rail link, opened three days before the World Cup at a cost of some 23bn rand.
The Gautrain provides residents and tourists in Gauteng province an alternative to the gridlocked highways that run between OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg and Sandton, the city's buzzing, affluent social district. Having seen its launch fast-tracked in time for the World Cup, when all lines are completed by the middle of next year, the Gautrain will link Johannesburg, the country's biggest city, with the country's executive capital, Pretoria.
With the foundations of an integrated public transport network in place, the South African transport ministry expects that within 10 years time more than 85 per cent of any city's population will live within a kilometre of a station. Another sign of the surge in infrastructure are the stadiums. Ten World Cup venues were built or revamped in the run-up to the tournament at an estimated cost of 15bn rand, while dozens of other stadiums and training sites were upgraded to meet Fifa requirements.
The principal concern regarding the stadiums is South Africa's ability to prevent them from becoming massive, gleaming, architecturally arresting white elephants. Greg Fredericks, the head of legacy for the local organising committee (LOC), told The National before the start of the World Cup last month that none of the venues had agreed long-term tenants, and little appears to have changed. The local football league generates insufficient interest to fill the stadiums, and some of the host cities are not home to top-tier teams. Super 14 rugby sides have been touted as potential tenants, but nothing has been agreed.
Worryingly, some reports claim the annual maintenance cost of the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth is 20m rand, and the population of the city is less than two million. One local fan, however, is confident for the future. "All we need to do is host a couple of international Test matches there each year and they will pack it out," said Andre de Villiers van der Berg, a rugby fan from Johannesburg. "The demand for soccer might not exist locally, but South Africans will always turn out for their rugby."
Most alarming for the future, however, is the extreme underestimation apparent in the country's World Cup bid book. South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper last month gained access to the secreted official bid book - "the cornerstone of the country's successful application to host the World Cup" - and revealed some gross miscalculations, describing it as "a curious melange of hyperbole and underestimation".
Most disturbing was the newspaper's revelation that the initial amount budgeted for all stadium upgrades and refurbishments was 1.1bn rand, but that the eventual cost was about 16.5bn rand. Danny Jordaan, CEO and face of the South African World Cup LOC, is, unsurprisingly, confident about the future of his country. He said that through sustaining jobs and increasing opportunities for youths, the economy will grow accordingly.
"These things can only be done through accelerated growth in infrastructure, an increase in tourism and improved information technology and broadcast infrastructure," Jordaan said recently. The initial cost, Jordaan and the rest of South Africa will hope, must not bankrupt the country before they get a chance to experience the long-lasting benefits. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org