It was the venue where former South African President Nelson Mandela addressed South Africans after his release from a 27 year prison sentence and it was where South Africa lifted the Africa Cup of Nations trophy in 1996, just a few years after readmission into international sport. As Soccer City stadium has risen from the ground after undergoing a massive refurbishment ahead of the World Cup, so the curiosity from the South African public has grown around the historic Johannesburg stadium.
Set to be the centre-piece of the 2010 FIFA World Cup as the host of the opening and final match – with the final attracting a television viewership of over one billion people – the stadium is already proving its power to pull crowds with the opening up of public tours through the stadium.
With five tours running each day during the week and four per day over the weekend, running between 60 and 70 minutes, anyone interested in catching a sneak peak at the stadium before the thousands of visitors flock in, now is the time.
“We started the tours in mid-January this year and we have had a great response. Already since the beginning of March we have had 4000 visitors to the stadium,” said Jacques Grobbelaar from Stadium Management who run the tours that take visitors throughout Soccer City – from the players change rooms, the stands, VIP areas, the pitch area and the tunnel that will soon lead the players onto the pitch.
For Grobbelaar the popularity of the tour, which costs 80 rand for an adult, shows that Soccer City will never be left to rust after the World Cup has finished.
“We are positioning Soccer City as a multi-purpose venue for the legacy of the stadium, we take tours as well as hold events at the stadium and after the World Cup it will get even more interesting. The stadium will become an interactive sports museum, displaying the history of Soccer City and showcasing sports memorabilia,” said Grobbelaar, who explained that the whole stadium would be kitted out with screens that will display footage from the World Cup to visitors. “For example we will have LCD screens in the change rooms with footage of Bafana Bafana inside them before a match and when the visitors walk through the tunnel we will have audio from the World Cup crowds playing,” continued Grobbelaar.
Sibongile Mazibuko, Johannesburg 2010 Host City Coordinator, believes that Soccer City will soon become the top tourist attraction in Johannesburg.
“You simply cannot visit Johannesburg now without visiting Soccer City, the demand has been so great and will only increase,” said Mazibuko who can point to the very moment when Soccer City became a tourist destination of choice. “When we started to put the roof on, the demand suddenly increased to the point where we needed to hire tour guides to take people around the stadium”.