South Africa faces a difficult task to ensure World Cup success

It’s been a tricky week for South Africa in advance of the World Cup.

Fans, players, sponsors, broadcasters and organisers are already looking forward to the festival of sport this summer which provides a huge opportunity for South Africa to showcase its country and underline the progress it has made since the end of apartheid.

But the murder of white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche has again reminded the world that racial tension still exists in South Africa and that safety is going to be a key issue both for organisers and the nation.

Perhaps that is why almost half a million tickets are still unsold, provoking fears that the World Cup may have as many empty seats as at the recent African Cup of Nations, which saw stadia half-empty during many of the games.

The fact that tickets will now be sold at banks and supermarkets is to be applauded, particularly with the lack of internet access for many football fans in South Africa.

Organiser Danny Jordaan has admitted that South Africa is a football mad country and that the failure to sell tickets would be a disaster, but the real issue has to be with FIFA to ensure that international fans have more access to tickets than has previously been the case.

A recent report said that fewer tickets have been bought in the UK than normally attend a Manchester United home game, despite the huge passion for the game in England.

Germany has also failed to sell as many tickets as for the average Bundesliga game, so something is awry.

It could be, of course, that the cost of travelling to South Africa and the associated accommodation costs has had an impact and the economic climate has undoubtedly played a part.

A World Cup without thousands of fans from around the world and without packed fan parks is going to do the host nation more harm than good.

Add to that the security issues and images of fans getting sucked into street fights with the locals or suffering appalling prison conditions or heavy handed treatment and the recipe is there for the festival of football to turn into a farce.

The organising committee needs to go into overdrive promoting the virtues of visiting South Africa, the increased focus on visitor safety and highlight the opportunities to buy tickets for the games.

South Africa has so much to offer tourists and the investment in the World Cup is undoubtedly going to leave a positive legacy for the future.

But the communications team needs to work really hard now to get more visitors from abroad to ensure there are no half-empty stands that could turn the tournament into a damp squib.