But just as Germany and Korea and other World Cup host countries did, South Africa beat expectations and appears to be ready for the hundreds of thousands of fans descending on the country over the next month.
South Africa refurbished airports in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban; built new stadiums in Cape Town, Soweto, Nelspruit, and Rustenberg; and added commuter rail links, hotels, and widened highways.
Now the main challenge is security.
South Africa has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world, with a murder rate that is some eight times the international norm, and 20 times higher than the murder rate in Britain, according to a 2007 study by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
But security expert Johan Burger of the ISS says that South Africa has recognized the problem and has responded commendably, by bulking up its police force, and coordinating with national and international intelligence agencies. South Africa, he says, now stands ready to provide protection for soccer fans and ordinary citizens alike.
“Overall, the police are preparing quite well, although it’s impossible to provide for every kind of contingency,” says Mr. Burger.
South Africa’s police force has increased from 120,000 officers in 2001 to 193,000 now.
South African police observed German police during the 2006 World Cup, and trained with French gendarmes in crowd control methods.
“The greatest potential risk at this point would be something on the order of ordinary theft, and you always have to take very serious precautions,” says Burger. (See Burger's top tips for how to stay safe.)
South Africa has held major sports in recent years – the Cricket World Cup of 2003, the European Premier League Cricket tournament in 2009, and the Confederations Cup soccer tournament of 2009 among them – and there was not a single security incident, said Mr. Burger.
World Cup 101:
- World Cup 101: Why is the World Cup in South Africa?
- World Cup 101: Is South Africa really prepared to host the World Cup?
- World Cup 101: Who’s favored to win it all?
- World Cup 101: How does the tournament work?
- World Cup 101: Why is the World Cup such a big deal?