What does it take to host a World Cup, or any major international tournament? It takes stadiums, roads, a good transport network, good administration, probably a Metro (or two) and a world-class communications system.
There’s one more ingredient—hospitality, which is what separates the merely good tournaments from the great. It includes the human element but goes beyond to define the quality of a host nation to ensure its visitors enjoy themselves.
Let me explain. I write this sitting in Plettenberg Bay, a picturesque but otherwise nondescript town situated towards the end of the 770km drive from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, where on Wednesday night England played Slovenia in a crucial group match. The game’s importance increased manifold last week, following England’s draw with Algeria; within minutes Port Elizabeth’s hotels were full, as were all incoming flights and buses. The breach, for all last-minute journalists and fans, was filled by the car hire, highway and hostelry systems. Superb roads meant the distance could be covered in 8 hours, in a self-drive car hired at a few hours’ notice; the network of B&Bs meant that one could stop at any point for the night—and be sent off in the morning with a friendly wave and a hearty breakfast. Never underestimate the power of a friendly wave in a foreign land.
South Africa has got a thumbs up almost each time it has hosted a major event—especially the last two, the World Twenty20 in 2007 and the 2009 Indian Premier League (IPL). There were major fears this time—of the crime rate, the dodgy broadband, lack of public transport and the general inefficiency of the service industry. Eleven days down and here’s my report: fewer than expected crimes against tourists, broadband doing fine, public transport could be better but is not too bad. The service industry—shop assistants, taxi drivers, even the police—is carrying out service with a smile.
Fan-friendly: South Africa has been a perfect host at the World Cup. AFP
Which brings me to India, a country where infrastructure is seen purely in the context of roads and bridges. For the Commonwealth Games, and the ICC Cricket World Cup a few months later, to be successes, we need to go one step beyond. The success of the first will have some bearing on the second—British journalists at the World Cup have asked me several times about the security in Delhi, both in the larger context of terrorism and the issue of personal safety, especially crimes against women. My standard response is that the Delhi government will pull out all stops, shut down as much of the city as is necessary, to get it right.
Grim but effective
The tougher issue, for several reasons, will be the Cricket World Cup. One, there is a greater likelihood of tourists coming for that than for the Commonwealth Games. Two, it is spread over eight cities across the country, making standardization of conditions extremely difficult. Three, this is cricket, which in India doesn’t have the reputation of being fan-friendly. I dare say the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) definition of success would not go so far as to include the fans’ experience.
In the faint hope that it does, here’s a small list of things it could do over the next eight months. First, there’s nothing wrong with alcohol; in many cultures—our own too, if we are honest—drinking is a form of relaxation, a means of bonding. We need to make conditions such that there is enough beer.
Ahmedabad will play host to Australia and Zimbabwe. Will their supporters be able to buy a drink or two, or as many as they want, openly, honestly and without paying in black? Will Bangalore, India’s “pub capital”, keep its pubs open beyond 11pm for fans of England and Ireland?
Second, ensure good public transport. I know a few South Africans planning to head up to Mohali for their game against the Netherlands. Will the non-existent public transport system be revamped to ensure they get there and back safely?
Third, construct an interface between the World Cup administration—nameless, faceless and ultimately blameless—and the fans who will attend. If I’m a fan with a ticket problem, whom do I contact? Fifa is more bureaucratic than even the BCCI, but it has a wonderful system of volunteers at each World Cup, drawn from the world over, paid a stipend and willing to be worked to the bone. They aren’t always the most efficient but they will take your complaints, requests or SOS calls and ensure that they reach the right person.
All these—and other “events” such as fan fests—are possible with some coordination with government agencies, some give and take. The involvement of IMG has made the IPL a far smoother ride for foreign players. Now it’s the turn of the fans. As even Fifa has realized, the game belongs to the people.
Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of Cricinfo and is covering the World Cup for their sister website Soccernet. He is writing for us through the tournament.
Write to Jayaditya at firstname.lastname@example.org