JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (BP)–What’s been called the world’s greatest sporting event — the FIFA World Cup — is set to kick off in South Africa’s largest city June 11.
The first World Cup soccer tournament on the African continent is expected to draw a cumulative global television audience of 26 billion-plus viewers during the month-long tournament, encompassing 64 games in 10 stadiums throughout the country.
In the opening match, the host team, South Africa’s Bafana Bafana will face Mexico’s El Tri in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium, built to resemble the traditional African pot called the calabash. The match will begin immediately following the opening ceremonies.
“All the stadiums are in a state of complete readiness,” said Danny Jordaan, CEO of the World Cup’s local organizing committee, “and most pleasing is the pristine condition of the playing surfaces — fitting for the world’s superstars who will soon be gracing them.”
Team USA hit the ground May 31, with captain Carlos Bocanegra commenting, “For the players it’s been a long time thinking all the way through qualifying, and now it’s finally here — we’re in South Africa.
“We’re excited for the games to start.”
Team USA’s first match is against soccer powerhouse England on June 12, followed by games against Slovenia on June 18 and Algeria on June 23.
“It’s going to be a great World Cup,” U.S. head coach Bob Bradley said. “Of course so much attention has been put on the first match against England. It’s a tremendous opportunity for us. The spotlight on that game is huge. It has already generated amazing interest in the United States.”
FIFA reports that American fans have purchased more tickets to date than any other country — between 130,000 and 160,000 tickets, more than twice the sales to English and German fans combined.
More than hardcore soccer fans, however, are gearing up for the World Cup. Those involved in Christian ministry plan to take advantage of an event that happens only every four years somewhere in the world.
“The world is coming to South Africa,” said IMB missionary Wade Coker, a mission strategy leader in southern Africa. “There is such a passion for the sport that, whenever the World Cup takes place every four years, there is a lot of focus on it; it’s on the world stage. We want to tap into the passion they have for that with the passion we have for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Plans are to share the Gospel with the hundreds of thousands of fans who will be attending the games, some from countries that have no missionary presence. In addition, efforts will be made to use the event as an avenue to evangelize and plant churches in some of South Africa’s major urban centers.
“One of the joys for us here is that people will see South Africa and want to pray for it,” said IMB missionary Kurt Holiday, a strategy leader for the urban areas of South Africa and Namibia. “There will be a hunger because of what they see and they will want to come and experience it.”
Volunteer teams and prayer support are essential for ministry, Holiday said. “We will have the ability to use soccer to get into areas where it is normally not easy to get into, to be welcomed and have a platform,” he said.
For prayer resources and daily news about World Cup events go to www.WorldSoccerJourneys.org.
Charles Braddix is a writer for the International Mission Board.