/ 23 November 2007

SA looks to silence sceptics at World Cup draw

South Africa’s ability to stage the world’s most widely watched sporting event will undergo intensive scrutiny on Sunday when it hosts the qualifying draw for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Thousands of football administrators and journalists will be present in Durban, with hundreds of millions more watching on television, for an extravaganza designed to silence the sceptics.

Fears about the progress of stadium construction, finance, levels of crime and accommodation are all still simmering away but organisers are hoping that they will remain on the backburner for this weekend at least.

”We wanted to make a statement that this is an African World Cup that’s going to be world class,” said Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the local organising committee (LOC).

”We hope that if there are any doubting Thomases, then after Sunday they will just be Thomases,” he added.

Jordaan and leadership of football world governing body Fifa are insistent preparations for the tournament — the first in Africa — are ahead of schedule but a spate of strikes at some of the 10 stadiums have reawakened concerns.

Following stoppages by workers in Cape Town, Durban and Nelspruit in the last few months, Jordaan reiterated: ”We will not fail on the delivery of stadiums on time.”

He also stressed that the unions were as committed as anyone to ensure the success of the tournament.

”We may lose a week as a result of the strike, we may lose a week as a result of the rain or because of wind,” he said.

”We do not doubt the commitment of the workers to make up the lost time.”

Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke admitted there were concerns but he said there was no reason to panic for the moment.

”For sure we are looking at what’s happening. For sure we are calling Danny to make sure that he is pushing to ensure the delivery of the stadiums on time,” he told a pre-draw press briefing in Durban.

”For the time being there are no red lights. There are some concerns … but we are still on track and we are sure that our concern is shared completely by the LOC and the South African government.”

The government admitted earlier this week that the cost of staging the tournament could be up to $500-million more than previous projections, a rise blamed in large part in rising steel prices.

Deputy Finance Minister Jabu Moleketi said the government would only work out how to finance the shortfall after coming up with a more detailed cost calculation next month.

Jordaan allayed fears about the ability to fund the tournament, although he admitted the final cost may be out of South Africa’s hands.

”This government had a budget surplus but a budget surplus cannot just let you spend the money,” said Jordaan, a former lawmaker for the ruling African National Congress.

”We have to recognise that products and services will be imported from Europe and overseas, and then there’s the exchange rate.

”Does it constitute a crisis? Definitely not.”

South Africa, where an average 50 people are murdered every day, is battling to shake off a reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous places but Valcke suggested the issue was more of a concern for locals than visitor.

”I have the feeling that the issue of safety is more important here than maybe in the rest of the world,” he said. — Sapa-AFP