World Cup hangover: North Korea team grilled

The North Korean World Cup soccer team never had a chance in South Africa, but that didn’t make the trip home any easier. At the beginning of July, they faced a “grand debate” because they let down the regime in the “ideological struggle” to put the ball into the net a lot during the tournament. More than 400 government officials, students and journalists watched the spectacle, though I have this sneaking suspicion that none really enjoyed it.

Responsibility for the loss fell to the coach, and the team members were allegedly compelled to point their blame in his direction. He was punished for having betrayed Kim Jong-sun, Kim Jong-il‘s son and rumoured next top dog of North Korea. The coach was fired and reportedly made to become a builder – he was also tossed from the Workers’ Party of Korea.

Apparently, just getting to the World Cup for the first time since 1966 wasn’t good enough, and I’m guessing that the next coach will take note of this.

It could have been a lot worse, though. Past coaches who didn’t measure up were sent to prison camps, according to South Korean intelligence sources.

Meanwhile, travel plans made the difference for two of the team’s players. Jong Tae-se and An Yong-hak, both born in Japan, were able to avoid the humiliating public display by dashing off directly to Japan following the World Cup tournament. If they had middle seats the whole way, I’m sure they weren’t complaining.

Fairmont Zimbali Resort opens in South Africa

There’s a new Fairmont in South Africa. The 154-room Fairmont Zimbali Resort has just opened, not far from the Fairmont Zimbali lodge, a 76-room property along the beach. The resort is tucked away in a 700-hectare forest reserve and is only 15 minutes from the new King Shaka International Airport.

Around the resort, there’s plenty to do, from game-viewing expeditions and safaris to micro-light flying and surfing in the Indian Ocean. There are five outdoor swimming pools on the property, including freshwater and saltwater pools overlooking the ocean. And, duffers can look forward to an 18-hole golf course (under construction) designed by Gary Player. Soccer fans, of course, will appreciate the fact that the Fairmont Zimbali Resort is only a short drive from Durban, one of nine 2010 FIFA World Cup host cities.

The Zimbali is one of seven new Fairmont properties to open this year.

World Cup 2010: is Johannesburg ready?

With the World Cup barely two weeks away, Johannesburg has shifted into high gear to get ready.

The city’s 2010 FIFA World Cup page proudly proclaims that a huge amount of effort and money has been spent on cleaning up the city and improving infrastructure. It has spent 1.2 billion rand ($151 million) to revamp Soccer City, a giant stadium where the opening ceremony and final game will be held. Billions have also gone into other stadiums and city infrastructure.

But a report by Business Day newspaper has found the city still hasn’t finished fixing roads between the main venues, the airport, and the hotel district. It’s an open question whether these will be done in time to deal with the huge increase in traffic once the World cup gets started. Another problem is transportation for the fans. The special transport set up between the airport and the fan park won’t run at night, forcing people to use public transport.

At least fans will be going to a place that was named the city with the lowest cost of living in a 2009 survey, and if they don’t find the savings being passed onto them, they can always get away from the crowds and visit Mozambique like many South Africans are doing this year.

2010 World Cup will not be moved from South Africa

It could have ended quite badly for South Africa. The first African nation to host the FIFA World Cup almost didn’t get the chance. Earlier this year, FIFA prez Sepp Blatter, the most powerful man in soccer, told the media that his organization had an alternative plan should South Africa not be ready to host in 2010. He cited concerns about security, infrastructure, and construction projects as the reasons for having a plan B.

But yesterday Blatter opened his mouth again. This time he had good news for South Africa: “There definitely is no plan B or C. The only plan is to make the South African event a success.” The tournament will undoubtedly be a huge boost for South Africa’s tourism industry. Security concerns and lagging construction projects are still problematic, and there is still the risk that bad press during the event could kill any buzz the World Cup could bring to the country. But Blatter’s promise not to move the tournament is a huge step for S.A., which can now focus on hosting duties, not on kissing FIFA’s ass.

[Via AFP]

South Africa Gearing Up for World Cup…Maybe.

In a little less than 2 years, South Africa will become the only country on its continent to ever host the FIFA World Cup. That is, unless FIFA decides that the country is unprepared and moves the world’s most watched soccer tournament to one of the alternate locations it has already selected. There are concerns about stadiums and infrastructure projects being completed on time. South Africa has announced that a stadium in Port Elizabeth will not be fully constructed by the time a major tune-up tournament is slated to be played there next summer. In addition, the country is plagued by power outages and high crime rates.

But South Africa seems unconcerned and claims that everything will be ready well before the first shot on goal. To promote themselves to travelers, the country’s tourist organization is beginning a major PR push on the BBC World Services Network. The campaign will include television commercial, documentary-style vignettes about destinations in South Africa and an online, user-generated travel guide. It remains to be seen if these efforts will help the country’s image. It could all be undone if FIFA pulls the plug on South Africa 2010.