x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

African neighbours opting to stay away

From the very beginning the World Cup in South Africa was promoted as an African event, one for the whole continent, not just the host nation.

JOHANNESBURG // From the very beginning the World Cup in South Africa was promoted as an African event, one for the whole continent, not just the host nation. Football is wildly popular across Africa, with fans gathering every weekend to watch European league games on television. Passions are high but African fans are not coming to this year's party.

Ticket sale statistics show that of the five African nations who qualified for the World Cup, Ghana has the most sales at 8,622, followed by Ivory Coast with 5,946 and Cameroon with 5,842. No other country sold more than 5,000 tickets. Given that most people who travel huge distances for the event will go to several matches, the figures suggest only a few thousand people will come to South Africa from each of the continent's competing nations.

Among South Africa's immediate neighbours, the figures are even smaller: Botswana had the most sales up until February (the latest statistics available) with 2,115. It was perhaps over-optimistic to expect large numbers of Africans to attend. It is the poorest continent in the world, overland travel is often difficult and time-consuming, meaning expensive flights are usually the only practical option. Many Africans do not hold passports, and South Africa requires visas for travellers from the majority of African countries. The global financial crisis also hit the continent hard, not so much directly affecting its banks, but the repercussions from the collapse in commodity prices had a major impact.

The ticket sales system did little to help. Overseas sales had to be over the internet, to which few Africans have access, and the lowest-priced seats were reserved for South African residents. Fifa officials have acknowledged the set-up was not as "friendly" as it might have been. But the most successful African teams may well find themselves still being backed by thousands of avid supporters. If and when South Africa are knocked out, many locals have said they intend to adopt another African team.

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