11 April 2008
George Bernard Shaw once said that newspapers are “unable to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization”.
South Africa would do well to consider this whenever its ability to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup is called into question.
No sooner had South Africa secured the rights to host the event (after a gruelling six-year campaign) than the rumblings started. As far back as 2006, we heard about the “contingency plans” and rumours that Australia was in the running to step in as hosts.
Ironically, it took an Australian to put the situation into perspective: “At the moment, people are comparing the finished product in Germany and the current product in South Africa, and that is grossly unfair,” said Michael Palmer, the former head of Fifa’s operations in South Africa.
Two recent UK media reports have again stirred up a hornet’s nest. The first stated that local Premier Soccer League matches were being played after midnight “because power for the floodlights cannot be guaranteed before that time”.
The second – just a week ago – claimed that Fifa had been forced to build a £400-million contingency fund to cater for the possible collapse of the 2010 World Cup. A newspaper quoted a source as saying that “the problem is they need 10 stadiums and some of these are rugby grounds that are run-down and in a very bad condition”.
Fifa demanded a retraction, saying it is public knowledge that reserves are built among other reasons to be able to cope with a World Cup cancellation, “and we have never made any reference to 2010 in particular”.
In a recent media interview, Local Organising Committee CEO Danny Jordaan said there was only one way to deal with South Africa’s detractors: “We have to say nothing to them. We have to continue to do hard work, to show the state of readiness.”
Irrespective of how South Africa’s 2010 preparations continue to unfold over the next two years, the chances are that we’re in for a rough ride in terms of international media coverage.
Certainly, we face formidable problems and challenges – like the hosts of other mega events – but nobody can question the extraordinary progress that has been made to achieve the goals that were set out when we began this challenge.
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010