PRETORIA. The global economic slump has forced the South African government to revise its estimate of the number of foreign visitors likely to attend the 2010 Soccer World Cup from an expected 1,300 to nine, excluding illegal immigrants.
However officials have hinted that the 600,000 empty seats will be filled with foreigners bussed in from refugee camps.
Addressing journalists this morning, Local Organising Committee spokesman Omo Maponya admitted that the new estimates were disappointing.
"Nine people is not a lot of people," he said, adding that most business models for the 2010 event had been assuming an influx of between 900 and 1,300 visitors, depending on how many foreigners looked at an atlas and realised they would have to fly 10,000 kilometers to stay behind electrified fences and be ignored by service industry workers.
However he urged South Africans to stay positive, saying that empty seats would probably be filled by victims of xenophobic attacks.
"It's really a win-win situation for all of us," said Maponya. "Those guys in the camps, they're all soccer-mad. They eat and drink soccer in those camps. Literally. They boil and eat soccer balls that the local kids accidentally kick over the wire, and then they ration out the water with all the bits of leftover string floating in it.
"It's awesome to see that level of passion." He said that refugees would be issued with the national flag of one of the teams playing and told to wave it or face deportation. "We'd probably tell them who to support," explained Maponya.
"Otherwise you'd have everybody cheering for Zimbabwe and Somalia at an England-Italy match, and that's not what the sponsors want to see." He added that the spectators would be urged to "look happy", probably by releasing tear-gas in the stands.
"It makes you go ack-ack-ack as if you are laughing, and your eyes close up and tears stream out," said Maponya.
"On television it really just looks like everyone is crying with laughter." He reiterated the Local Organising Committee's promise that soccer hooliganism would not be tolerated in South Africa, but added that if the hooliganism was ethnically motivated it would be reclassified as xenophobic, and probably tolerated a little bit.