Dispatch from South Africa: Stadium lives up to hype

March 23, 2011

Editor's note: During Spring Break, 16 Penn State students made their way to Cape Town, South Africa, as part of a weeklong journalism expedition led by Tony Barbieri, professor of writing and editing. The immersive project, part of Barbieri's spring 2011 journalism course on "International Reporting," provided an opportunity for students to experience duties similar to those of foreign correspondents working for media outlets. During the first part of the semester, the students researched South Africa and developed story ideas. In South Africa, they conducted interviews with subjects in and around Cape Town, and assembled a final portfolio of projects from each student that will be marketed to newspapers across North America. In addition to the students and Barbieri, two other professors attended, along with two documentary film students who are producing a documentary on the group's expedition, and their adviser, Barbara Bird.

In this third entry, Audrey Snyder, one of the participants in the trip, writes about the importance of soccer in Cape Town and shares her experience at Green Point Stadium. The soccer stadium is one of the most eye-catching sights in Cape Town and with the World Cup less than a year away, she noted the lasting legacy the event has on the area.

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There's no denying the importance soccer has here in Cape Town. From leftover World Cup posters and banners hanging in shop windows to the array of soccer jerseys seen on the street, it's obvious that soccer is much more than just a game here. In order to try and see for myself just how much of an impact the 2010 FIFA World Cup had on Cape Town, I headed out for a tour of Green Point Stadium.

When I was nearing the stadium, the big, white structure that resembles a bird's nest left me well aware that I was closing in on the new Green Point Stadium. I had been told by locals that a stadium tour was a must and if the inside looked half as good as the outside I was going to be thrilled.

After purchasing my tour ticket for $46 rand (a little less than $7) I decided that regardless of how cool the inside was I could at least head back to the states and tell my friends that I was at one of the World Cup stadiums.

While many soccer stadiums are known for their rowdy fans, I took a look at what was prohibited from inside the stadium and one thing stood out. Right below the sign that bans firearms and explosives from the stadium was the next bullet point: The old South Africa flag. In a country where apartheid ended in 1994, this move made a lot of sense to me and was one of the examples of how South Africa is still trying to strive for racial equality and lessen the amount of racism that occurs.

As soon as I heard the buzz of a vuvuzela coming from the top of the stadium steps, my tour guide emerged and began explaining what the hour and a half tour included. With about 12 people in my group, I was excited to be in a small tour and was surprised that there weren't more people trying to catch a glimpse inside the new stadium.

With a quick trip to the visitors center to see photos and quotes about the 2010 World Cup, my South African tour guide was quick to point out that he never heard of Pennsylvania. Every time the guide mentioned something like Barack Obama, USA soccer or anything American, he felt the need to remind the group that I – the only American in my tour group – was from this place he never heard of. It helped keep the tour upbeat and as the guide walked the group through the now 55,000-seat stadium that took nearly 33 months to construct, I couldn't help but feel impressed.

From the leather seats in the president's box to the new grass that was planted after the U2 concert last month forced the stadium to go through a makeover, I knew I was in soccer heaven. With five floors leading up to the club boxes, as well as a visit to the suite where any president and prime minister may sit, the view out onto the grass remained sharp. Unlike many American football stadiums, there wasn't a view in Green Point that I didn't like.

Even the media seating, which wasn't surrounded by window or a box, was one of the best spots in the stadium and that surprised me since the press box seats are getting worse and worse in America. Though there had to be glass added around the broadcast booth during the World Cup since the builders didn't anticipate the noise coming from the South African noisemaker known as the vuvuzela, the view was still fantastic.

The tour did a nice job of showing just about every area of the stadium and while in-stadium jail, which was used to keep out of control fans was neat, so too was the changing room and the warm-up room. The thing I found most interesting about the changing room was the foot and boot cleaner that was next to the showers. Since the spreading of disease and the taking of South African soil is not allowed, the players must wash their boots after the match in a specially designed sink. Add in the massage tables and the combination safe above every locker for the players' valuables, and the area was great.

As the tour guide took us through the all rubber room, which is where the players can warm up one last time and kick the ball anywhere and not have to worry about breaking anything, the anticipation of running out of the tunnel and onto the grass was building.

Though no one is allowed on the grass, posing for pictures along the pitch made for some great photos. Seeing the stadium from this viewpoint allowed me to understand what it was like for the players during the World Cup and while there's no substitute for the noise, the snapshot of the field is etched in my memory.

While the stadium now will be used for occasional soccer matches and concerts, taking the seating from 68,000 (the World Cup capacity) to 55,000 perhaps will make the facility seem more full. With not many big-name shows coming through Cape Town it's hard to imagine the stadium getting much use in the future. While it was quite the investment for the World Cup, I'm glad I got to visit Green Point Stadium while it was still relevant and in top form.

-- Audrey Snyder

To follow the weeklong series of Dispatches after they have been posted, visit http://live.psu.edu/tag/Spring_Break_2011_South_Africa online.

  • Nobody was permitted on the grass, but tour members were allowed to pose for pictures along the pitch, so Audrey Snyder did just that. For more photos, click on the image above.

    IMAGE: Comm 498B class
Last Updated March 28, 2011