1 August 2008
Not for the first time, the government, the 2010 Local Organising Committee and other key 2010 role-players have had to undertake a damage-control exercise following Fifa President Sepp Blatter’s recent admission that there was after all a “Plan B” in case South Africa was unable to host the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
But it has taken the comments of two prominent football personalities to help put South Africa back on an even keel in terms of its World Cup preparations.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is no stranger to these parts; and with the latest edition of the Vodacom Challenge viewed as a key test of this country’s preparations for the World Cup, the local and international media were anxious to hear his take on the 2010 hosts.
The stakes were significantly higher than when United last visited, two years ago, particularly since the three-team contest is now broadcast in 35 countries.
“The organisation has improved since the last time we visited, and the atmosphere has been outstanding,” Ferguson told reporters after United outclassed Kaizer Chiefs 4-0 to win the tournament last weekend. “It’s a great country to have the World Cup.”
Other United administrators, coaches and players agreed.
Addressing reporters at the end of Germany’s Olympic Congress last weekend, Wilfried Lemke, the UN Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, pledged his full support for South Africa.
“I will do everything I can to make the 2010 World Cup a success,” he said.
Lemke, who visited the country last month, insists that the decision to award the tournament to South Africa was the right one, and that it will help to stablise the country.
In a speech to delegates at the third edition of the 2010 National Communication Partnership Conference in Sandton this week, Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad said 2010 presented South Africa with an enormous opportunity to counter the negative publicity the country receives.
“It is about getting out from underneath the welter of negative press coverage our continent receives,” Pahad said. “It is about informing the world that Africa has much to offer, that our people are ready to receive the world, ready to host those who come to the World Cup.”
Former England international Gary Mabbutt also took aim at South Africa’s critics this week. “Crime is a problem, and the government is training 30 000 new police officers specifically for the World Cup.
“But it is taken out of all proportion: 99.9 percent of people who live in South Africa, whatever their race, colour or creed, are beautiful people, but 0.1 percent, like anywhere in the world, are very bad.”
He added that “there is no way Fifa would ever give the World Cup to a country they didn’t feel could do it”.
Other heavyweights, like Franz Beckenbauer and Pele, have also endorsed Team South Africa. And the list is growing.
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010