Organisers of next year's World Cup have announced that South Africans will get 120,000 free tickets to the event while insisting that the poor should share in the excitement as their country becomes the first in Africa to host the world's most popular sporting event.
|There will no doubt be plenty of excitement at the concept [EPA]
Fifa said its 2010 World Cup Ticket Fund is the first of its kind in the 80 years of the tournament.
Fifa had already set low ticket prices for South African residents, starting at about $17, compared to $80 for international tickets.
But with more than a quarter of the work force unemployed, and many of those who do have jobs earning $10 a day or less, even cheap seats are out of reach.
Jabu Humphrey Ngoaile, a Johannesburg university student, said he would like to see a World Cup match, but had other priorities for his money such as tuition and feeding his son.
"Even working people will not, for instance, take half of their salaryjust to go watch a match,'' he said. "It's too much.''
Sponsors to play provider
The bulk of the free tickets will be distributed by Fifa's sponsors, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates airline, Hyundai and Kia carmakers, Sony and Visa.
They will focus on poor fans working in fields such as health care and education.
Coke, for example, is encouraging students in impoverished areas to collect bottles for recycling while they learn about protecting the environment.
Schools whose students collect the most will win some of the 20,000 free tickets Coke has been given to distribute.
Construction workers who have been building stadiums and other infrastructure for the tournament will get 40,000 of the 120,000 free tickets.
The month-long tournament kicks off in 300 days in Johannesburg, and chief local organiser Danny Jordaan said he has repeatedly been asked whether everything would be ready.
"The workers said yes, and we say thank you,'' Jordaan said at the announcement of the free-ticket scheme.
Stadium workers to benefit
Tens of thousands of stadium and transportation project workers went on strike for a week last month, saying they weren't being paid enough for their role in readying South Africa for the World Cup. Some of the laborers were taking home less than $100 dollars a month.
Jordaan said Friday that time lost during the strike was being made up.
"There's floodlights at night and the workers are working,'' he said.
Jordaan was speaking at the Soweto site where Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists gathered in 1955 to set out their vision of a better future.
They adopted the Freedom Charter, which declares that "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people.''
The site, now a public plaza with a convention hall and street market, is a symbol of what South Africa has overcome.
But the presence of shacks nearby shows the persistence of apartheid's legacy of poverty and inequality.
"There's a big segment of our society that will not be able to afford to buy a ticket'' to the World Cup, Jordaan said.
A short drive from where he spoke, cement trucks and earth movers were kicking up dust as work continued on Soccer City, the World Cup's main stadium.
Jerry Lephalala, a 24-year-old football fan who'd been looking for work for a year, said he'd just gotten a job on the site.
Some of his 140 rand a day earnings, the cost of a seat at the games, would go to buy World Cup tickets for himself and friends, he said.
"We're going to host this one well,'' he said. "All the world is coming.''