JOHANNESBURG, South Africa January 11 – It is the largest sporting event on the continent, but the build-up started late and there is a lack of atmosphere just over a week before the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in South Africa.
The sizzle of colourful public enthusiasm ahead of the 2010 World Cup is conspicuously absent, drawing criticism from foreign football supporters living in the country.
“If you look at 2010 there were flags on the roads. This time — nothing,” said Christopher Kalibwe, 28, sporting his native Zambia’s green, red, black and orange at a warm-up match in Johannesburg.
“You just read of it in the newspapers,” he told AFP.
“I don’t think there is any vibe,” said Moroccan Rachid Souilek, who also watched a goalless warm-up draw between his country and defending African champions Zambia.
“It’s not like the World Cup. The fever was there months before the tournament. There are no TV shows, no build-up.”
South Africa host the Africa Cup from January 19 to February 10, having stepped in when turmoil in Libya forced the tournament to be moved from the North African country.
Comparisons to the extremely successful World Cup are inevitable as foreign media pick up on the lacklustre run-up.
“In contrast to the 2010 World Cup, when advertisements were put up well ahead of time in places like shopping centres, streets, airports, stadiums and cars, for this continental tournament the country has done little to show visitors what it has achieved in terms of organisation,” reported Angolan news agency ANGOP.
But the organisers hit back at the criticism.
“I think it’s unfair,” Cup of Nations local organising committee (LOC) spokesman Sipho Sithole told AFP.
“You are expecting South Africa to have done the same that it did for 2010. If this was the 2017 (Cup of Nations) — the tournament we were supposed to host — and we had four years, it would have been fair.”
Committee chief executive Mvuzo Mbebe blamed sponsors for the lack of hype, saying the LOC did not drive marketing during the World Cup.
“It was driven by sponsors,” he said.
“Have you seen any other ads except for the adverts of the LOC? With our limited resources, we can only do a certain amount.”
Newspapers have been counting down the days to the January 19 tournament opener between South Africa and debutants Cape Verde Islands, but radio advertisements started only this week.
Johannesburg-based TV sports channel SuperSport has bucked the trend with aggressive marketing of the 22-day championship.
Despite promises of timely publicity campaigns, the drive started late because the government released funds only in December, explained Sithole.
Various events in host cities marked the 10-day countdown this week. Marchers and rickshaws paraded through Durban’s streets and a rally in up-scale Johannesburg suburb Sandton got crowds excited, though the attendance was low.
South Africa coach Gordon Igesund played down the delayed take-off.
“I think there’s a great vibe,” he told AFP. “Everyone’s getting excited.”