Across Africa, bumpy and ill-prepared surfaces have long been the subject of much frustration and debate, but they are now being eliminated, thereby making the competition a lot fairer as footballers are finally able to play key matches and chase FIFA World Cup™ glory on surfaces conducive to proper football.
Already the African qualifiers, which reach the end of their penultimate phase this weekend, have been played on 15 different artificial pitches built as part of the expansive programme. Saturday's key Group 12 game at Blantyre's Chicheri Stadium between Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo will be played on a newly laid pitch while venues from Victoria in the Seychelles on the eastern side of the continent to Praia in the westerly Cape Verde Islands have also been transformed by the FIFA initiative.
Other such stadiums are in Burundi, Chad, Comoros Islands, DR Congo, Lesotho, Mauritania, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Also, Eritrea have played international games on the new surface, but did not have the opportunity to host a FIFA World Cup qualifier, after withdrawing from the Preliminary Competition on 25 March. Most notably, the Rufaro stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe has also seen local favourites Dynamos reach the semi-finals of this year's CAF Champions League. Dynamos coach David Mandigora said: "The pitch certainly makes for much quicker football and it's more exciting for the fans."
A Presidential inspiration
The brainchild of FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, FIFA's ‘Win in Africa with Africa' initiative was first announced in N'Djamena (Chad) in 2005 and ratified by the FIFA Congress in Munich, just prior to the start of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. It is designed to offer a post-2010 legacy to African football - and the Football Turf project is a fine example of that. Providing good surfaces for people to play football on is one of the cornerstones of the campaign and has received widespread support from administrators, coaches and players alike. A total of $70m USD will be spent on ‘Win in Africa with Africa,' with $38m of that amount being spent on the pitches. Each project, in terms of the bidding process, contract signing and testing has been handled by FIFA and already there have been four regional seminars to educate Member Associations on how best to maintain the surfaces' quality.
FIFA is building at least one pitch in all of 53 member countries of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), except South Africa. The pitches range from those installed at development centres, built as part of FIFA's GOAL project, to municipal stadiums and to national stadiums. In some cases they are the only option for international football. FIFA's newest member, the Comoros Islands, was finally able to host a full international for the first time last November once the artificial pitch from FIFA had been installed at the Stade Said Mohamed Cheik in Mitsamiouli. In doing so, it allowed the small island nation to proudly compete in the South Africa 2010 preliminaries.
So far, 30 pitches have been completed and a further five are going through their final testing phase. Thirteen more are nearing completion, like a new surface in Douala, Cameroon, which will be ready by the end of October. The final six, which include Ethiopia and Somalia, are hoped to be ready by March 2009, although due to the political situation in some countries, a more realistic aim would be to have all 53 ready in time for the kick-off of the FIFA Confederations Cup in June 2009.