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IPL boosts SA's image ahead of 2010 WC

April 22, 2009 13:11 IST
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Hosting the Indian Premier League (IPL) is helping to burnish South Africa's image abroad and dispel worries about its readiness to host the 2010 soccer World Cup, officials say.

The world's biggest Twenty20 tournament, which started in Cape Town on Saturday, was moved to South Africa last month due to security concerns in India as it holds general elections.

The second edition of the IPL has brought a much-needed boost to South Africa, where flagging ticket sales for the FIFA Confederations Cup which starts in June had raised concerns over the country's ability to host a successful soccer World Cup in 2010.

"This was a perfect opportunity to show the world that we can host a major event in 20 days," Gerald Majola, Cricket South Africa (CSA) chief executive, told Reuters.

"Who can then doubt us, that we can hold a World Cup in 2010, given four years to prepare for it?"

The choice also underlines the stability of South Africa's political system. South Africans vote in the most hotly contested national election since the end of apartheid on Wednesday but few expect widespread violence to mar the poll or interfere with the tournament.

The IPL, which lasts until May 24, was expected to bring around 1 billion rand ($109.6 million) into Africa's biggest economy, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said at the opening ceremony on Saturday.

The chief executives of hotel firms Sun International and City Lodge told Reuters last month they expected the IPL to boost occupancy rates across their hotel portfolios.

Majola said he expected more than 10,000 foreigners to visit the country during the competition.

The 59-match IPL tournament, which features almost all the top international players including England's Andrew Flintoff and India's Sachin Tendulkar, has also gained popularity for its entertainment element -- Bollywood superstars Preity Zinta, Shah Rukh Khan and Shilpa Shetty all own IPL teams.

Tickets for the opening weekend's double-header games in Cape Town were sold out within hours.

In contrast, sales for the Confederations Cup, the test event being held ahead of the 2010 World Cup finals, have been slow, with approximately 200,000 of the 640,000 tickets sold.

The global financial crisis does not seem to have dented overseas demand for World Cup tickets but world football's governing body FIFA has criticised South Africa for not doing enough to spur local support.

South Africa's high crime rates and its ability to finish building stadiums and infrastructure have also come under scrutiny but the South African government has pledged to beef up security and has repeatedly said it will be ready for the tournament.

IPL Chief Operating Officer Sunder Raman told Reuters South Africa's hosting of the IPL would spur enthusiasm for the Confederations Cup and proved the country was capable of putting together international events.

"If someone can pull together a tournament in 20 days, it talks volumes of the infrastructure available and the readiness of the country to host any tournament of any scale," Raman said.

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