2010: the busiest year yet for sports journalists?

SJA Chairman BARRY NEWCOMBE, left, on the international challenges in the coming year for sports journalists

It is not difficult to guess at the sense of eager anticipation and perhaps apprehension which will fall over England on the evening of June 12, when John Terry and his team start their bid to win the World Cup for the first time since 1966.

England will not begin their campaign in one of South Africa’s major cities. Instead, the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in the outskirts of Rustenburg awaits them. The stadium rears up out of the flat landscape and if you carry on driving beyond it, you will soon have a choice of the golf, gambling and leisure complex of Sun City or the still quiet of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, which shuts its gates to the world when darkness falls.

I have worked at the stadium once, at a South Africa v New Zealand rugby Test and all went well until the end, when there was a complete communications breakdown. Incoming mobile calls worked intermittently and only some patient copytaking by Rob Maul on the Sunday Times sports desk ensured that I met first edition deadlines.

Later, for a rewrite, I had to drive for about half an hour before finding a petrol station and a phone signal. In fairness, that was the only time in visits to South Africa going back to 1974 that communications there have failed me, and I would bet that all those who are on World Cup duty in South Africa will be impressed this time.

South Africa has enough experience of hosting major sports events that a 32-team World Cup, with all its accompaniments, will not daunt the country. They have handled big cricket and big rugby, neither of which generates the huge fan base of next summer, but the experience will help.

For those of the Press corps who have not been to South Africa before, I would suggest they are in for an exciting time in a vividly colourful country which is forever changing. I remember well the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the drama of South Africa winning before an audience which included President Nelson Mandela wearing a Springbok shirt.

The British writers who go to South Africa will discover what a vast country it is, as they move around from Rustenburg, then on to Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in the group stages. I await with interest the stories they bring back.

Next month’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver will get underway a very crowded sporting year, with all its demands on the media, as well as our sportsmen and women.

Here are a few events in the coming year to contemplate. Ryder Cup golf heads to Wales for the first time with the Celtic Manor course certain to add to the legends of this great competition.

The Champions’ League final goes to Madrid this year with that May 22 showdown looking very close to the start of the World Cup. Formula One, with world champion Jenson Button teaming up with his predecessor Lewis Hamilton, opens in Bahrain on March 14 and has two races most months through to Sao Paulo on November 7. Will Hamilton and Button both have to fight off the challenge of Michael Schumacher?

England’s cricketers will move on from their current mission in South Africa to the World Twenty20 in the West Indies at the end of April. Test series against Bangladesh and Pakistan follow and the five-Test series against Australia begins in November ” so there’s no let up for Andrew Strauss and his men.

Track and field offers the European championships in Barcelona in July, two months before the Commonwealth Games begin in Delhi. Andy Murray’s quest to nail down a career first Grand Slam title opens in Melbourne on January 18, while the Six Nations championship gets underway next month, with all the home nations having more than one eye looking forward to the next World Cup in New Zealand.

And amid all of this, there’s yet another World Cup to think about as well. FIFA’s decision on which nation – with England among the bidders – will host its 2018 tournament will be decided on December 2.

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