About 300,000 people are visiting South Africa for the World Cup, way down from an initial forecast of 450,000. The smaller number of fans has been blamed on everything from the global recession to South Africa's cold weather. But surely all the media fear-mongering ahead of the WC about South Africa's terrible crime rate and the numerous terror threats apparently aimed at the tournament played a major part in dissuading people from coming.
As I just walked through Pretoria downtown after midnight, chatting with a stranger about Bafana Bafana's Cup exit, I remembered reading this preposterous article by Louise Taylor in The Guardian last year.
After the Togo football team had its bus attacked in the Angolan enclave of Cabinda, 1,000 miles away from South Africa, there was drivel like this Christian Science Monitor story.
On my way to South Africa, all of the British tabloids ran front-page stories about a stampede at a Nigerian warm-up game in which about 10 people were hurt, but none seriously. "World Cup Terror," blared one headline (the Daily Mirror, I think).
So, now that the World Cup has reached its half-time mark, have any of these doomsday predictions come true? Luckily not. There have been isolated incidents of theft and such, but this World Cup has been no more dangerous than the ones in Germany or Japan. In fact, most of the special World Cup courts (there are apparently more than 50) that were set up to administer swift and harsh justice to criminals caught targeting foreign visitors reportedly stand empty.
What has struck me instead is the amazing diversity of fans that are here. There may not be as many as organizers had hoped, but I for one didn't expect to see thousands of supporters from each of the South and Central American teams.
South Africans, understandably considering the country's history, are obsessed with how the international media is portraying South Africa. Of course, once the tournament started, the foreign press has had very little to complain about when it comes to security and overall organization. But the damage is already done.