- By Andrew SwiftAndrew Swift is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
Next month, 32 national football sides will compete in the first-ever African hosted World Cup — but they might be playing in half-empty stadiums. Over half of the 500,000 tickets allotted for South Africans remain unsold, with sales significantly slowing over the last month.
I don’t know why this’d be a surprise. Less than four percent of South Africans earn nearly forty percent of total personal income. Another fifth makes up the "emerging middle class," leaving seventy-five percent of the country in the lower income tier. Almost half the country is in poverty, the economy is contracting, and income inequality is in fact getting worse. I’m guessing that most South Africans figured tickets would be a luxury they couldn’t afford.
This announcement comes amid a slate of bad news: the World Health Organization warned tourists of an outbreak of Rift Valley fever only yesterday, and a tragic bus accident — allegedly caused by the bus driver falling asleep at the wheel — claimed 23 lives today.
Aside from the tickets fiasco, the Organising Committee claims that everything is ready for June 11th. This quote from spokesman Greg Fredericks, however, doesn’t alleviate all concerns: "We certainly hope that the strike season will be over." That’s not exactly the voice of confidence.
To correct the ticket problem, FIFA should either slash prices even further, or free them up for more foreign fans. They’ve earned some good press today when they announced that workers on the World Cup stadiums would receive free tickets to two matches. Empty stands at the World Cup would be the height of embarrassment.
To be fair, it would give a break to weary ears blasted by obnoxiously (and dangerously) loud vuvuzelas.