Since the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, over 300,000 people have visited the Durban FIFA Fan Fest™, situated at New Beach just 3.5 km from the spectacular Durban stadium.
Durban’s tropical climate has certainly contributed to the festival’s success, but a major revamp of the Durban beachfront and surrounding area also has local residents and domestic tourists streaming back to a beautiful part of town that has been neglected for too long.
The coastal city was certainly the place to be on Friday as fans streamed in by the thousand for what was perhaps the most anticipated match of the group stages, Brazil up against Portugal. But while the match itself did not live up to all the hype, the city of Durban certainly did.
The festivities around the stadium started at midday as fans made their way along the beachfront to the stadium, soaking up the sun, sea and beachfront atmosphere. And while the chilly winter nights have fans scrambling for transport back to a warm pub to watch the evening matches in some of the other cities, fans in Durban last night were in no hurry to go home.
Instead they joined the thousands of fans that had not been lucky enough to get a ticket for the stadium at the fan walk and FIFA Fan Fest for the Spain vs Chile clash at Loftus in Tshwane/Pretoria.
“Durban is certainly where it is happening,” said 22-year old Justin Rodrigues from Johannesburg. “You simply walk out of the stadium and are spoilt for choice when it comes to where to watch the next game.”
Within a couple of hundred metres of the stadium is the Sun Coast casino public viewing area, followed by miles of beachfront hotels, cafes and bars, packed to capacity with delighted fans, and then the Fan Fest itself, situated right on the beach among palm trees with the Durban surf crashing in the background.
The Brazilian supporters were very impressed with Durban’s carnival atmosphere. “It feels like we are at home, the beach reminds me of Rio and the people are great, we hope to learn a lot from this World Cup and by the time 2014 approaches, we will be ready,’’ said Seleção supporter Fillipo Domingues.
Local residents have also been swept away by the two-week long party. ‘’The Fan Fest has enabled the people of Durban to speak one language, it is true when they say soccer unites people, I watch most games at the Fan Fest and the atmosphere is out of this world,’’ said Sandile Ngubo.
Deven Moodley agrees. “Since the World Cup started, the beach has felt like a country on its own, I have met so many people here and we all have fun, it feels great.”
‘’Watching the games at the Fen Fest has been a total bliss, even though Bafana Bafana is out, a lot of people are supporting other teams too, the mood hasn’t changed at all,” said local resident Karabo Khumalo.
The World Cup has certainly brought a new sense of pride to the people of Durban.
Fatima Dangor, a medical student who has watched four matches at the Fan Fest, is very impressed with the upgrades in her hometown. “It’s much nicer, there’s a wider space to walk, it’s lit and feels safer. The World Cup has really uplifted Durban – it has increased tourism, many of the potholes on roads have been filled and we have a new stadium and a new airport.”
Farnaaz Shaikjee, who has been working at one of the many local food stands run by her mother agrees. “I think it’s so great – it’s improved the infrastructure for the residents of Durban, infrastructure that won’t be here for just one month. Tourists can see what a beautiful city we live in and locals can enjoy it as well,” she observes.