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World Cup stadiums: What's with all the empty seats?

World Cup stadiums have had gaping holes where people should be. South Africans fret that it's a sign that the Cup will not bring the prosperity that they had been promised by FIFA and politicians.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / June 15, 2010

New Zealand goalkeeper Mark Paston deflects a shot during the World Cup group F soccer match between New Zealand and Slovakia at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa, on Tuesday. What's with the empty seats?

Lee Jin-man/AP


Johannesburg, South Africa

Forget, for a moment, the dulcet tones of that popular (and yet curiously plastic) trumpet that South Africans call the vuvuzela.

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Look at the stands. Where are all the fans?

Game after game in this World Cup, the stadiums have had gaping holes where people should be. From the opening match – in which South Africa heroically held off a very strong Mexican team in a draw – to the powerful matchup between Netherlands and Denmark yesterday, cameras have shown the lie behind World Cup organizers’ predictions that there would be no empty seats at the World Cup.

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Sports analysts call it embarrassing, FIFA officials admit that it’s concerning, and ordinary South Africans fret that it is yet another sign that these World Cup games will not bring the prosperity that they had been promised by FIFA and by South African politicians.

“It’s a bit of a puzzle,” says Ivo Vegter, a sports columnist for The Daily Maverick, an online South African news publication. “Initially FIFA registered that they had sold tickets, and then the expected half-million foreign visitors fell to around 250,000 to 350,000 visitors, and what that might suggest is that all those hotel rooms will remain open as well.”

“As South Africa, we got the stadiums built, and all FIFA had to do was sell the tickets,” Mr. Vegter adds. “They seem to have made a cock-up of it.”

There are, of course, plenty of potential reasons why people may not be attending Africa’s first hosting of a World Cup. The first reason may be that it is in Africa. Frequent stories about war, famine, crime, and political strife – even if those stories are not actually about South Africa, specifically – can be a turn off.

The second reason may be cost. Plane tickets to Africa from the US can be anywhere from $1,600 to $3,000. This final issue may have been exacerbated by the global economic crunch, which has left up to 10 percent of the US population jobless, and has had even harsher effects in Europe.

Besides the TV footage of empty eats, the numbers also paint a not-too-pretty picture.

The opening game between South Africa and Mexico, broke a South African attendance record with 84,490 fans, but that was still almost 4,000 seats short of Soccer City stadium’s 88,000 gross capacity. Eight thousand seats sat empty during the South Korea-Greece match, even though 40,000 of the 42,486 seats were sold.