18 September 2008
Fifa is fond of reminding the world that it has more member states than the United Nations and that it wields far greater influence. So when its bosses drop in for a visit, everyone takes notice.
And so it was this week when the governing body’s president, Sepp Blatter, secretary-general Jerome Valcke and other Fifa heavyweights came to assess South Africa’s preparations for the 2010 World Cup.
Thabo Mbeki, FW de Klerk, Nelson Mandela and ANC President Jacob Zuma met with Blatter, who said the showpiece tournament of the beautiful game is bigger than any political party, “because football will solve everything”.
A World Cup on African soil was his idea, he reminded us, and this decision was now bearing fruit. “The work is going well and South Africa is ready to fulfill those dreams. The progress being made is good.”
Blatter, who has always promised a unique World Cup, was reminded of just how unique it is going to be.
During a visit to the stadium construction site in Cape Town, he was mobbed by hundreds of construction workers who acknowleged the opportunity Fifa has given them, the country and the rest of the continent.
At Soccer City in Soweto – venue for the World Cup final – the Fifa delegation received a rendition of Shosholoza, sung by about 2 500 workers.
It was moving stuff, and Blatter said as much. Certainly, it’s unlikely that he received such a rousing welcome when he was visiting the stadium construction projects in Munich, Hamburg or Dortmund in the build-up to 2006.
Blatter reminded the workers that he came from a blue-collar background, “where my father wore a uniform and worked in a chemical factory for 40 years”.
During the four-day visit, there was no mention of any “Plan B”, just a clear affirmation of Fifa’s “commitment, confidence and trust” in the 2010 hosts.
It was a message South Africa – and the rest of the world – needed to hear.
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010