South Africa, third world? Hell, no!

I attended a briefing session yesterday at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Stadium just outside Rustenburg , in preparation for the FIFA Confederations Cup that is due to kick off on Sunday, 14 June 2009. After the briefing session we walked around the stadium precinct to all the various areas (zones) which will be frequented and used by the Press and Broadcast Media, photographers, players, officials etc.

Now, even though I was intimately involved as a Project Manager in  installing the IT & T and Broadcast WAN and LAN networks in this, and other stadiums which will be used during the Confederations Cup, I was still amazed as we viewed our handiwork,  by the complexity and sheer brilliance of all those involved in conceptualizing and designing this futuristic network. The billions spent to put all this together is dedicated to one thing only; ensuring that billions of soccer fans around the world can receive all the action from the stadium, through either a television or radio channel, the Internet, or a multitude of print media, and give their audiovisual senses a treat.

The organizers of the tournament, FIFA have left very little to chance, if anything at all. As you observe the cutting edge technologies and facilities deployed around the stadium, you realize that they have thought of everything. I have been personally involved with the planning, deployment and commissioning of the entire IT & T and Broadcast solution for just over a year already, but FIFA personnel have been busy for much longer. And we have only just begun, because the Confederations Cup is only the opening act for the main event – the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup, which will be held in exactly one year from today.

Imagine full high definition video of the matches being transmitted to every continent in the world almost instantaneously, and being watched by billions of people at the same time. Imagine photographers on the soccer pitch whose cameras are “plugged into the network”, taking high quality photographs practically every second, and having them transmitted to all corners of the globe immediately for editing and publishing. Imagine journalists interviewing different soccer players speaking a multitude of languages, at media conferences and having their responses translated immediately into a language of their choice, through headsets they are provided with. Imagine hundreds of journalists and commentators from a host of different countries having a dedicated Media area in the stadium grandstand from where to write, commentate, even photograph. Imagine a journalist based in one stadium, being able to “connect to” and cover a match taking place at another stadium entirely. The technology and facilities for all this, and much more will be available for the Confederations Cup.

And the most amazing thing is that it is all happening here on the southern tip of the African continent – a place which many people from overseas, still visualize as having wild animals running around in the streets. But maybe they’re not far off the mark; soccer stadiums featured in previous FIFA and UEFA tournaments are usually located in densely populated cities, but the Royal Bafokeng Stadium is situated in a semi-rural area, minutes away from Nature Reserves teeming with wild animals. What a treat for visitors coming to attend the soccer matches?

I feel privileged to be a part of such a huge undertaking, perhaps the biggest in the history of this country. In terms of the technology, skills, facilities and attractions, South Africa is up there with the best in the world, even surpassing world best in some areas.

Now, if only our politicians adopted some “first world” habits, we would really be laughing…

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