There will be two sets of Winter Games in 2010. First up, Feb. 12-28, will be the 21st Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, a quick return to North America after a sojourn in Italy in 2006. No need to unpack the cold-weather clothes, because four months later, in the midst of winter in the southern hemisphere, will be the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Ever since the International Olympic Committee decided to stagger the Summer and Winter Games after 1992, the frozen sports have been played in the same year as the World Cup, giving fans two major events to watch.
There will be 86 events spanning seven sports around Vancouver and at the Whistler ski area, a two-hour drive north. Despite the economy, ticket demand has not gone downhill. According to U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) spokeswoman Nicole Saunches, "Ticket demand has been high, as you would expect with the Games right across the border. That's been great for Vancouver and the Games in general."
Americans have already received the largest allotment of tickets ever for the U.S. in a nonhosted Winter Games, and they want more. Mark Lewis, president of Jet Set Sports, whose CoSport subsidiary handles ticketing for the USOC, says more than 80,000 individual tickets have been sold so far. The final phase of ticket sales will being in mid-September, and fans who want tickets should go to cosport.com "It's certainly not too late," says Lewis. Nor is it too late to book hotel reservations. "There will be rooms available, and more are opening up," says Walt Judas, vice president of Tourism Vancouver, noting that inventory is being released by organizers and companies that blocked many of the 25,000 rooms in metro Vancouver early on.
Historically a warm-weather event, the 19th edition of the World Cup will be contested for the first time in Africa, in the continent's southernmost country. The tourney kicks off on June 11, with the final on July 11 in Johannesburg. South African winters are generally comfortable, but as this June's Confederations Cup showed, it can get frosty (28°F, or -2°C) at night. Yet fans could be warmed by livelier games. Former German great Franz Beckenbauer has said, "The players like it. You can only play a fast game like this in the cool or cold weather."
The big issue isn't weather. It's whether there will be rooms for everybody. The official word is, "FIFA believes there is sufficient quality accommodation in South Africa." But FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has basically ordered organizers to augment the room supply with cruise ships. Tamara Cohen, a South African who is a travel consultant in Charlotte, N.C., says that while FIFA's got all the major hotels and chains booked solid, there are other options, including private homes available for rent, boutique hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses. "This type of accommodation has exploded in South Africa in the past 10 years," she says. "It is really a good value and much more personal."
That is, once you get there. Airlines have yet to add flights for the World Cup. (It's at least a 15-hour hop from the U.S.) Cohen cautions that travel to Africa isn't like anything else and that World Cup tourists should organize early and deal with reputable agents. Tickets are available through FIFA's second phase of sales, which runs until Nov. 16. U.S. Soccer's Neil Buethe says FIFA is allotting 12% of each stadium's seats to participating teams, and once the American team has qualified, fans should check ussoccer.com for more information. The next phase of ticket sales begins on Dec. 5, the day after the final draw. As of Sept. 1, the U.S. is second only to the host country in ticket purchases--78,328, according to FIFA, almost double that of the next best, England. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati isn't surprised, crediting the sales to the increasing popularity of the sport domestically along with the sheer size and wealth of the U.S.
Whatever winter event you choose, make sure you deal with legitimate travel agencies and ticket brokers. After going that far, you don't want to be left out in the cold.