Saturday, December 23, 2006

South Africa: Mbeki - SA is Leagues Ahead in World Cup Preparations

PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki has defended SA's ability to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup, saying the country is further along in its preparations than any other host nation at a similar time.

"We have beaten all previous records with regard to preparations for the successful hosting of the World Cup, including the benchmarks set by the highly successful 2006 German World Cup. This includes the financial sponsorships without which it would be impossible to hold the tournament," he said in his weekly online newsletter.

Since Germany's successful hosting of the tournament this year, criticism has been levelled at SA from many quarters. There have even been reports that Australia has been put on standby as host should SA fail to meet the 2008 deadline for building stadiums.

Although Fifa, soccer's governing body, has continuously insisted SA is perfectly capable of hosting the cup, construction delays and internal squabbles prompted Fifa president Sepp Blatter to offer shovels and picks to ensure the 10 stadiums are built on time.

However, Mbeki said it was imperative that the processes were conducted properly and transparently, and that construction contracts were awarded following structured tenders.

Other problems have included perceptions that the CEO of the local organising committee, Danny Jordaan, and its chairman, Irvin Khoza, cannot stand each other, a rumour the two have been at pains to quash.

Organisers have had to deal with opposition from residents to the building of a new stadium in Green Point, Cape Town, as well as the squabble between Cape Town mayor Helen Zille and Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool.

Khoza has warned the city that the organising committee may have to look for an alternative venue to Cape Town.

Mbeki, as part of a list of what SA had achieved this year, wrote that despite the country's accomplishments, people in the country and elsewhere had done their best to convince South Africans that they would fail to host a successful World Cup.

He said that through the joint efforts of Fifa, the local organising committee and government, solid foundations had been established for an exceptional event.

Mbeki said that the work done to prepare for 2010 represented one of the most prominent items of good news, of which South Africans should be proud.

He also expressed the hope that the fortunes of the national soccer team would improve.

"History suggests that an uplifting performance by the host country is often an integral element in a successful Fifa World Cup, and we are confident that the hope of the nation, Bafana Bafana, will rise to the occasion in 2010."