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Bill Radke: I don’t know how much soccer you watch, but it is a big surprise that the American men’s team is in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup today. If we actually beat Spain, that would be a big shocker. This tournament is also a big deal for the host country, South Africa. It’s sort of a test run for next year, when it hosts the World Cup. South Africa is preoccupied — it’s dealing with its first recession in 17 years — but this soccer tournament is a priority. As Gretchen Wilson reports from Johannesburg, this nation has something to prove.
Gretchen Wilson: Last month, the country’s new president, Jacob Zuma, made the tournament a national priority in his inaugural address.
Jacob Zuma: South Africa will deliver a world-class event that will forever change the perceptions of the international community.
Next year’s World Cup will be the biggest sporting event ever held in Africa. And it’s been a catalyst for the development of South Africa’s infrastructure. Crews are at work on new hotels, a high-speed train, and a rapid-transit bus system.
Rich Mkhondo is the spokesman for the World Cup’s Local Organizing Committee:
Rich Mkhondo: We have seen the country’s skylines change because there is a lot of reconstruction and construction going on. We are building six new stadiums, we are building two new airports, which are going to be used in the future.
This year’s Confederations Cup has had some glitches. Traffic’s been chaotic. Some cities don’t have enough hotel rooms. And some fans and players have been robbed, reinforcing concerns about South Africa’s high crime rates.
But organizers say these issues will be resolved, and that next year’s games will show what used to be called “the dark continent” is part of the modern world.
Mkhondo: We believe that the World Cup will brand South Africa and Africa afresh.
That’s important, because many people associate Africa mainly with conflict and poverty. Until now, one of the biggest global events tied to Africa was the Live Aid concerts of the 1980’s, which drew attention to a famine in Ethiopia.
Jason Mercer: Twenty-five years later, it’s a moment to reintroduce Africa not as a charitable case, but as something that can inspire and kind of be source cause for celebration.
Jason Mercer is producing a new documentary film about soccer here called “Africa 10.”
Mercer: Well, the exciting thing about this World Cup is Africa has never hosted anything like this on any sort of scale. And this is in a sense Africa’s homecoming to the world.
South Africa is banking that that homecoming will be followed by a boost in tourism and investment dollars. Already, officials expect the number of visitors to the country to climb more than 11 percent after next year.
In Johannesburg, I’m Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.
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