World Cup-Bound Americans Raring to Go, With Some Trepidation About South Africa

Host country has many obstacles to overcome as 100,000-plus U.S. fans prepare.

May 13, 2010, 1:47 PM

May 14, 2010— -- Taryn Buckley of Gainesville, Fla., and Marckle Myers of New York City travel in different circles but share some distinctly common traits: a love of soccer, trips planned to next month's World Cup in South Africa and a few nagging concerns about navigating a country that's relatively short on infrastructure and long on social ills.

Myers is the more anxious of the two, even to the point of losing some of his enthusiasm for the 8,000-mile, three-week trip as his departure approaches. "I brought my tickets before considering the location of the trip," he said of his first World Cup. "I have found myself wishing the [sponsoring] FIFA people looked into the capacity of the country to deal with all the football tourists' needs.

"I will admit I'm a little apprehensive about the trip. I'm still going but, frankly, cannot wait until I'm back ... not a great way to start a vacation," the 46-year-old antique prints dealer said, adding that he would have planned sooner had he known of the costly transportation and housing logistics.

Hardcore soccer fan Buckley, who attended the 2006 German World Cup and readily recalled the ease of mobility there, is more confident but still uneasy about South Africa's ability to coordinate travel among nine cities for hundreds of thousands of fans from around the world, including 100,000-plus from America.

"How easy will it be to get around to all the popular sites once we get into a major city?" asked Buckley, 24, a University of Florida instructor and Ph.D. student in health education and behavior who is already planning to attend the 2014 Brazil World Cup.

She, her husband and her father will soon find out, when the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world debuts June 11 for a month-long run on a continent that has never hosted an event of such magnitude and complexity. For all its cultural, geological and panoramic blessings, South Africa has struggled mightily to manage the post-apartheid era, and snagging the World Cup has been a generally welcome diversion from crime, racial strife, rampant HIV/AIDS infections and other difficulties.

But many South Africa-bound Americans remain unbowed, even those with legitimate concerns about transportation, housing, security and travel costs. They are not only comfortable with the idea of South Africa as host city but resoundingly confident in the government's ability to keep them safe, entertained, informed and connected.

The Trip of a Lifetime

What's more, in the words of Rick Brennan of Fairfax, Va., "the whole fear aspect to this trip has been way overblown."

"It's our second World Cup and we couldn't be more excited; not concerned about security, nothing worse than NYC and we have been there many times," the Carfax communications production manager said via e-mail, adding that he and his wife attended the 2006 German World Cup.

The plan this time is to hit five soccer matches, including some team USA games, but leave room to crisscross the country with stops that include the Cape Town wineries and Kruger National Park. "This will be the trip of a lifetime," Brennan said of the two-week journey.

Milo Mariani of Long Beach, Calif., also has no doubt in organizers' ability to pull off the games without undue incident.

"I expect South Africa to be a great host nation and I am confident they will be," said Mariani, 33, a software business development representative who will be there for two weeks. "I am also sure it will be the greatest World Cup to date, despite many people's concerns."

Count Steven Redhead of Pittsburgh among the mildly concerned, although the 23-year-old financial analyst said, "none of this will stop me from experiencing the trip of a lifetime." He has also been impressed by the far-off hospitality of South Africans who have helped him prepare for his two-week trip.

Even as a self-described "seasoned traveler," however, Redhead said he has some misgivings about relying on limited public transportation for the two-week trip with his roommate, as well as the unpredictable acceptance of credit-debit cards, which will force him to carry more cash than he normally would. "This is obviously a worry in conjunction with the crime problem," he said.

But all in all, he said, "It is unreasonable to expect nothing to go wrong because it is a different country. I am generally unconcerned about the high crime in South Africa. I generally know what to expect and how to stay away from trouble. It will simply be a matter of keeping up your guard at all times."

Nowhere to Stay, Not Much Money to Spend

Perhaps Evan Roelans will find safety in numbers. The University of Miami graduate student is on the way to South Africa for a month with eight other students and a professor. The goal is to attend a few World Cup games after completing a field-study program examining urban projects and a service project with the Amy Biehl Foundation, a South African-based nonprofit, he said.

"I am personally not too concerned for my safety because I have lived in metropolitan Miami for my whole life," the 22-year-old international administration student said. "We will be going to Soweto and some fairly unsafe parts of Johannesburg, but that's all part of the experience."

If "experience" is a prerequisite for Joshua Keys of Long Beach, Calif., and his best friend from Michigan, then they are headed in the right direction, assuming the out-of-work architect can get to South Africa.

"I have [World Cup] tickets," he said, "just trying to find affordable flights. We have nowhere to stay and not much money to spend."

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