The World Cup could set a 16-year high for paid attendance at games, the chief executive of the local organizing committee said Thursday.
Danny Jordaan said at a breakfast meeting that there is a "big possibility" that the tournament will surpass three million paying fans for the first time since 1994 in the United States. "The signs are there," said Jordaan, adding that 2.69 million people had already paid to watch games. "The South African fans have been superb. The spirit inside the country has been one of the outstanding features of this World Cup."
However, FIFA said Thursday it still has 1,000 premier seats unsold for the Argentina-Germany quarterfinal match in Cape Town on Saturday - a game featuring two of the world's biggest teams. There are also 700 premier and 200 Category 1 tickets remaining for Friday's match between Uruguay and Ghana at Soccer City. Hugely disappointing international hospitality sales has also meant more than half of suites have been left empty at many matches. Organizers have also struggled to ensure all ticket buyers actually attend games and fill their seats at the stadium. Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium had at least 4,000 empty seats for each of its first six games at the World Cup - including 12,000 for the round of 16 match between Uruguay and South Korea.
Bloemfontein's Free State Stadium had similar problems and only boasted a capacity crowd for two of its six games. It had rows of empty seats at the other four.
Organizers had to give away tickets to Confederations Cup matches in South Africa last year and promised then that there would be no empty seats at World Cup. But they have yet to solve the problem, despite bulk sales to offload tickets to South African companies and various government departments.
Jordaan also said that South Africa had attracted 364,000 tourists for the first two weeks of the World Cup. The country's deputy, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, said that nearly 1 million foreigners - mostly from neighboring countries - have entered South Africa in June.
Nearly 45,000 Americans, and about the same number of Britons, lead the way from western countries during that time, Gigaba said. About 220 people were denied entry, he said.
In 2004, organizers said they expected between 450,000 and 500,000 visitors for the tournament before the global economic crisis led them to revise that figure to less than 300,000. "We are delighted to have attracted so many soccer tourists for the first two weeks of the World Cup," Jordaan said, although it is still unclear if South Africa will reach its initial estimates, which would provide the country with part of the much-needed economic boost that tournament organizers have banked on. Still, Jordaan gave an upbeat assessment of Africa's first World Cup, and said it would be "the cherry on the top for Africa" if Ghana beats Uruguay in Johannesburg on Friday to become the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals.
Jordaan said South Africa's World Cup had been an "extraordinary success" and had proved the country's doubters - and particularly the foreign media - wrong.
"Now, to their credit, those people have said sorry and complimented the way we have run the tournament and the huge success of the first World Cup in Africa," Jordaan said.
"There is a positive energy in our country we need to harness and maintain after the World Cup ends.
"For a while we will be depressed (after it ends)," he added, "but we can hold our heads high knowing we have surpassed all expectations."