The aristocrats of football have concluded their seasons. Manchester United were crowned the Champions of the English Premiership. The Special One, Jose Mourinho, guided Inter Milan to the glamorous Scudetto of Italy’s Serie A and Barcelona bagged their 19th Spanish Primera La Liga.
Ordinarily interest in the world’s most beautiful game would be over. However, focus now shifts to the Confederations Cup that gets under way in South Africa on June 14.
Having world champions Italy, Brazil, Italy, Spain and African giants Egypt parade their galaxy of stars in one competition is as good as it gets in football circles.
The dream of an African World Cup is finally a reality. This is the soothing consolation for Fifa Local Organising Committee (LOC) chairman Irvin Khoza, chief executive Danny Jordaan and their team who have endured endless struggles in bringing to fruition the hopes and aspirations of the continent.
The LOC has had to overcome doubt from a coterie of detractors that refused to believe South Africa could put together the biggest sporting event in the world.
There were instances when these prophets of doom convinced even some of our own people that this event was beyond the organisational capabilities of South Africa.
That the Rugby World Cup, Cricket World Cup and lately the Indian Premier League have been hosted in this country, among other international events, appears to have deserted the memories of those who chose not to believe.
Admittedly, the challenges to delivering the events have been insurmountable for the LOC. They range from guaranteeing safety for the multitudes of football fans, to building state-of-the-art stadiums on time, improving the road networks, providing sufficient accommodation and transport.
The question of whether South Africa has risen to the challenge was answered last week.
“We want to assure the world that we are prepared to deliver a world-class Confederations Cup,” said Jordaan at a press briefing.
“We approach the tournament with confidence. Our stadiums are ready, our transport and security plans have been fine-tuned and more than 4 000 volunteers have been trained. We know we still have much to do but I can assure you we will not disappoint.”
The Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Rustenburg venues are ready for the World Cup curtain raiser. Even the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium managed to meet the Confederations Cup deadline, despite its earlier failure to satisfy the LOC that it would be ready for the competition.
Sadly, failing to pass the test cost Port Elizabeth an early feel of the World Cup action as the LOC decided not to take the risk of scheduling any Confederations Cup matches there. The LOC boss assured fans that logistics such as the training of volunteers, medical services and the media centre are in place.
Chief security officer for the LOC, Linda Mti, also assured the safety of fans, players and officials. “From the airports, borders, ports and hotels we are ready to protect visitors and locals,” he said.
Mti’s department has its work cut out given the crime rate. The ultimate litmus test is for South Africa to crack down on criminal activity during the Confederations Cup.
Fans appear to have warmed to the Confederations Cup in the past few weeks, largely thanks to innovative thinking by the LOC. Slow ticket sales for the tournament were becoming a source of embarrassment but the introduction of less tedious means to buy tickets than through the internet have seen sales jump from just 160 000 to more than 350 000. There is a total of 640 000 Confederations Cup tickets.
While the LOC appears to be winning on the logistics front, the preparedness of Bafana Bafana continues to be a major concern. Joel Santana’s charges have already failed to qualify for the Africa Nations Cup to be played in Angola next year. As if suffering this indignity is not enough, a lack of discipline seems rife among the players. Benni McCarthy failed to show up for two friendly matches. Another striker, Mabhuti Khenyeza of Cape Town Ajax, also recently failed to join camp. Bafana could well be the Achilles heel of the LOC and Fifa. The fear of the hosts failing to make it past the group stages has Fifa and the LOC running scared.
Only a great Bafana performance can complement the hard work that has been put in from the day South Africa won the right to host the World Cup finals.