Tuesday, May 27, 2008

African Stadiums OK For World Cup Qualifiers

Finally, some encouraging news regarding the safety of stadiums in Africa ahead of next month's World Cup and African Cup of Nations qualifiers.

All the stadiums under threat of being barred from hosting World Cup qualifying matches have been passed by FIFA.

Stadiums in Congo, DR Congo, Gambia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Swaziland and Zambia will be allowed to host matches in next month after having upgrades or starting the necessary improvements demanded by FIFA.

But that's not the end of it.

FIFA, football's ruling body, has warned it might clamp down again if the improvements ordered are not in place by the start of the second phase of group qualifiers in November 2008.

"In order to play 2010 World Cup qualifiers in stadiums at the level of such a competition, FIFA took the initiative to inspect several stadiums in Africa in the past months," a FIFA spokesman said.

"Based on the inspections and thanks to the works already realized since then, FIFA has authorized that these stadiums be used for the preliminary competition matches of the 2010 World Cup. However, in most cases, FIFA has decided that the present authorization is conditioned by the mandatory completion of some works by the end of November."

In other words, get your house in order ... or else.

Many African countries were under the threat of having to move their upcoming home matches to neutral venues. Now only Lesotho and Togo are playing home matches outside their borders.

Lesotho have moved matches to Bloemfontein in neighboring South Africa because of renovations to their only national stadium.

Togo have been given a four-match home ban after violence at the last qualifier they hosted in last year's African Cup of Nations qualifiers, when supporters attacked Mali's players.

Togo, surprise World Cup finalists in 2006, have moved their matches from Lome to neighboring Ghana.

MY POV: This is great news. On one hand, FIFA's clamped down on unsafe football stadiums. They're protecting the most important asset in this equation: the supporter.

On the other hand, the host countries are forced to deal with the problem at hand: the inadequate stadiums. Renovations are made, FIFA inspects, FIFA deems the stadium safe and qualifiers proceed.

This is a classic win-win situation.

True, some countries can't afford the renovations. Some countries are dealing with issues far more important that football.

But then again, isn't that where the focus should lie? The problem at hand? Not the football?

Good job by FIFA. Let's hope the stadium issue gets more press as the qualifiers go on and no one has to set foot in an unsafe environment on the continent again.

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