Organizers of Africa's first World Cup are more than doubling the number of tickets priced for working class South Africans, amid indications wealthy foreigners aren't snapping up seats.
Originally, 11 per cent of all tickets sold were set aside for citizens of the host country at about $20 US — a quarter or less than the price of other tickets. Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the South African organizing committee, told reporters on Thursday that had been increased to 29 per cent.
"You have to take into account that football fans in South Africa are working class people of low income," Jordaan said, adding labour unions and the media had been pressing him to make more low-cost tickets available for South Africans.
Half of South Africans live in poverty, and at least a quarter of the nation's work force was unemployed.
Other steps taken to make football's premier event accessible to those hosting it include distributing 120,000 free tickets through sponsors like Coca-Cola and giving more free tickets to the men and women who built the stadiums.
"We have made this commitment that the tournament will be affordable," Jordaan said.
The CEO added he would not be able to determine until all the tickets had been sold what effect the larger percentage of cheap tickets would have on his bottom line.
"We are comfortable we have enough money, more than enough, to deliver," he added.
FIFA acknowledged this month that only half of the VIP tickets — for spots in luxury booths — had been sold. Organizers blamed the global recession.
FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke, who joined Jordaan at Thursday's news conference following an organizing committee board meeting, said 2.24 million of 2.9 million tickets had been sold so far.
Officials said other matters discussed at the board meeting included concerns about the state of some pitches.
Irvin Khoza, chairman of the organizing committee, said drainage problems had been found at the stadium in Nelspruit, in eastern South Africa, and that a special committee had been formed to monitor the state of the grass at all 10 stadiums.
Valcke said that while work remained to be done outside the main Johannesburg stadium, where parking lots and access roads are not yet complete, its pitch was impressive.
"There could be a game tomorrow morning," Valcke said of Johannesburg's Soccer City, which will host the opening match and final. "From the inside, this stadium looks beautiful."
South Africa has faced persistent questions about whether a developing country can pull off a World Cup, and officials have just as persistently insisted they would be ready for the June 11 opener.
On Friday, Jordaan, Valcke and others will lead reporters on a tour of the nine cities and 10 stadiums that will host the World Cup.
"The work goes on," Jordaan said, "and the next two weeks are quite critical."