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Relief as arenas near completion

JOHANNESBURG, November 30 – Once a headache for the local organising committee, the 10 South African stadiums for the 2010 World Cup are now pride and joy as they are set to be ready on time for the football extravaganza.
SOCCER_CITY_2_Stadium construction faced many challenges, including strikes in July when more than 70,000 workers asked for salary hikes, countrywide blackouts in January 2008 that crippled the economy, budget deficits and sometimes unpredictable weather.

"It has been a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes we were happy and most times saddened by the criticism and the pessimism but we always knew we would be ready on time," local organising committee spokesman Rich Mkhondo told AFP.

Mkhondo said five new and five renovated stadiums were now more than 95 percent complete and the final touches were being applied, such as security barriers, planting trees, roads leading to the stadium and parking lot paving.

To win confidence of the local and international community in advance was not easy as many times the capacity of South Africa to deliver world-class tournament infrastructure was scrutinised.

The country’s readiness for the world’s biggest sports spectacular was also questioned when the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth, which cost 2.1 billion rand (282 million dollars, 189 million euro), missed its construction deadline for the curtain-raiser Confederations Cup during June.

Instead, renovated stadiums such as Pretoria, Rustenburg (north-west) and Bloemfontein (central) stole PE’s limelight.

Since then the stadium was the first to be ready for the World Cup.

Other challenges the stadiums faced were public protests.

Greenpoint stadium in Cape Town, one of the semi-final venues, faced fierce competition when residents opposed the development and took the municipality to court.

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"We overcame tremendous challenges because in the beginning some residents were opposed to the development (stadium) and tried to stop construction through legal process but lost," Cape Town World cup 2010 spokesman Pieter Cronje said.

In Nelspruit, township residents protested outside the stadium, demanding a school be built as theirs was used as offices during the construction of the stadium with children taught in containers.

Authorities said construction of a new school would start this week and finish in March.

The stadium architecture had an African feel with roof poles resembled giraffe while criss-crossed black and white seating resembled zebra prints.

Soccer City in Johannesburg, venue for the June 11 opening match and the final on July 11, will seat 91,000 spectators and resembles a calabash while Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane is inspired by the locally iconic Baobab tree.

However, there are question around government spending about 10 billion rands (857 million euros), excluding host city contributions, in a country where poverty affects 43 percent of the population.

Mkhondo said all the stadiums had sustainability programmes beyond 2010.

"Before we gave the go ahead to cities to build stadium we asked them (about) long-term plans to utilise them and were satisfied. Most of them will be turned into multi-purpose centres," he said.

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