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Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Reuters > Report

African Safari welcomes cricket world


Andrew Quinn | February 09, 2003 03:00 IST

South Africa opened the 2003 cricket World Cup with a Safari spectacular on Saturday, sending African warriors, township dancers and stampeding zebra on to the pitch as the drums of political controversy continued to rumble.

The Olympic-style ceremony at Cape Town's Newlands cricket ground was beamed to some 1.4 billion people around the globe, marking the biggest event of its kind ever staged in Africa and a boost to South Africa's hopes of hosting the much larger soccer World Cup in 2010.

"All Africa thanks you that have thus come to us as friends," South African President Thabo Mbeki told the 14 teams as he declared the competition open.

"Thus you have given us a gift that is as priceless as life itself."

Some 22,000 spectators gathered at Newlands cheered as the ceremony got under way with party of San hunters -- descendents of South Africa's earliest inhabitants -- pursuing performers dressed as stampeding herds of zebra, giraffes and antelopes.

Organisers have seized on the World Cup to promote South African tourism and modern infrastructure and Saturday's ceremony provided glimpses of the "Rainbow Nation", from its spectacular physical beauty to the vibrant culture of its black townships.

In six scenes, 4,500 volunteer performers joined in a choreographed display of national pride, taking viewers from the backcountry bush through a shebeen -- or pub -- crawl of modern township life to a ballet paying homage to the ocean.

And in a huge tableau dubbed Unity, ranks of performers of every colour joined to form a beaded African necklace -- a salute to the ethnic mosaic that South Africa has celebrated since the end of white-only rule in 1994.

Unlike the pyrotechnics of recent Olympic parties, Saturday's World Cup show was deliberately low-tech and "people-based".

All the nearly 12,000 costumes and props in the show were constructed out recycled materials and most were made by township craftspeople as part of a plan to spread the benefits of hosting the cricket championship.

Saturday's ceremony launched six weeks and 54 matches of the World Cup, with hosts South Africa taking on West Indies in the first game at Newlands on Sunday.

POLITICAL TENSIONS

One thing not on the programme for Saturday's opening bash was politics, although political tensions continued to crackle off the cricket pitch.

This year's World Cup has been dogged by controversy over plans to stage a number of matches in Zimbabwe and Kenya, setting up a clash between the African hosts and cricket powerhouses England, Australia and New Zealand.

Australia and Britain have led calls for Commonwealth sanctions against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, accusing him of rigging his re-election in 2002 and compounding Africa's food crisis by seizing farms in a land reform programme.

Planned political protests around the Zimbabwe matches have fuelled security fears, leading England to ask to move their February 13 match in Harare to South Africa.

That request was denied, but team officials said players could still vote to boycott the game with a final decision expected on Sunday.

Champions Australia have also expressed concerns about their match against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo later in the tournament. New Zealand have said they will refuse to play Kenya in Nairobi, again over security concerns.

While the dispute has been criticised by South African leaders, who fear it could overwhelm their efforts to stage the largest sporting event in African history, there was nothing but cheers on Saturday when the teams entered Newlands.

As fusillades of fireworks exploded in the skies next to Cape Town's famous Table Mountain, fans, players and officials joined in a party most hope will put cricket -- and South Africa -- back at centre stage.

"We hope the world will be proud of us," said Bernadette Karelse, a 12-year-old performer who joined the thousands of other volunteers in putting on Saturday's show. "Maybe next time we will do the Olympics. That would be even better."

© Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.


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