IT'S all gone mad in sunny South Africa today. Unbeknown to me, while I was swanning around in the pool in Centurion yesterday, the national radio station 702 had picked up on my story about the World Cup draw being fixed (see early blogs and youtube video, search for thenealcol).
Turns out the presenter, David O'Sullivan, a year younger than me when we attended the world-leading journalism course at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, had seen my stuff about the World Cup draw being fixed.
It got the whole nation talking and another old university pal, the World Cup communications director Rich Mdkhondo, was wheeled out to defend the draw. I've just spoken to him on the phone. We've agreed to disagree!
He's a cracking fellow Rich. I've said if he ever needs a positive British voice on the World Cup 2010, just call me.
But then the same radio station asked me to go on tonight at 5.40pm (you can listen live online, just go to www.702.co.za) and sent me a leaked interview with the tourism minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk (above). He reassured everyone two days ago about accommodation during the World Cup... but his official quotes appear to suggest otherwise.
This is the story I sent to the Evening Standard in London:
SOUTH AFRICA have admitted they have a huge shortfall of 14,000 beds in Rustenburg - and similar problems in several other World Cup towns.
England, who have been planning to prepare for the World Cup at Rustenburg's Bafokeng Sports Palace for over a year, will be shocked to learn that nothing has been done about the lack of accommodation in the unfashionable town in the North West province.
Many felt the World Cup draw had been fixed when England, already booked in to their facility, were put in Group C - with their first game against the United States in Rustenburg on June 12.
England got the draw they wanted with the town affectionately known as "Rusty" far enough away to keep the fans out of trouble but happily housed.
But when minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk was asked how the Rainbow Nationw ould cope with the expected 450,000 visitors to his country for Africa's first World Cup kicking-off on June 11, he appeared to be short on answers.
He said: "In terms of the audited database for Rustenburg, there are 134 establishments, translating to 3,489 room and 6,978 beds. We anticipate a shortfall of 14,200 beds."
And the bad news doesn't end there. He added: "Polokwane has 149 establishments, which translate to 2,794 rooms and 5,588 beds. We anticipate a shortfall of 17,000 beds.
"Bloemfontein has 225 establishments, translating to 2,677 room and 5,354 beds. We anticipate a shortfall of 14,100 beds."
And his solution? "To address this, we have extended the definition of host cities to include surrounding areas which can be accessible within an hour, Rustenburg is not far from Gauteng, and Bloemfontein is not far from Kimberley and Polokwane is also not far from Gauteng, Nelspruit and Zimbabwe. We have therefore integrated surrounding areas to accommodate the shortfall and will ensure that there is enough transport to accommodate the fans and visitors."
What the minister neglected to mention is that Rustenburg is a good hour, about 60 miles, from Sandton outside Johannesburg and Centurion south of Pretoria, the two main tourism hubs in Gauteng.
The N4 motorway - a toll road - is in good shape, but getting on to it from Sandton or Centurion is by no means straightforward. Anybody staying in central Johannesburg will be facing at least a 90-minute trip to watch England train in Rustenburg in early June.
Van Schalwyk added: "We anticipate that there will be three million visitors, a third of which will be international visitors. People will not be flying in to attend one game but will come from different games depending on which teams advance to the next round. So the expected 450 000 is not for one game but for the entire event."
Locals are hoping "ungraded" establishments and rented houses will help, but the Minister is clearly worried: "A room that is ungraded is a room that has not been quality assured by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa. It is difficult to say how it will look like because it has not been checked by the authorities.
"Such an establishment is however authorised to work as a business because quality assurance in South Africa is not mandatory. We however encourage fans to use graded establishments since they would know what to expect from graded establishments."
The web portal for booking accommodation will open by February.
Phew! Hope they don't get too angry about that here. And anyway, my dad's got a guesthouse in Centurion, so the tourists will be flocking to Chez Collins! Off to watch PSL leaders SuperSport United play bottom side Jomo Cosmos tomorrow. It's at Loftus Versfeld, the rugby stadium which doubles as a World Cup venue. Should be interesting. I'll take pictures and tell you more tomorrow...