Just as the 2008 Beijing Olympics was China's 'coming out' party to showcase its resurgence to the world, so too the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be Africa's major chance to show off the continent's positive attributes.
This was the strong message from senior South African Government officials, the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa (OC) and FIFA as key 2010 figures addressed the world media in Beijing today.
As Beijing 2008 draws to a close this weekend, South Africa 2010 will take centre stage as the world sport's next major event. And a formidable panel of Minister in the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa Dr Essop Pahad, the country's Deputy Finance Minister Jabu Moleketi, the Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 OC Dr Danny Jordaan and FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke reiterated at a media briefing in Beijing today that South Africa was more than ready to take the baton from China in the world sporting spotlight.
Among a myriad of issues raised by about 200 global media representatives were FIFA's assessment of South Africa's readiness to host the event, the status of the country's 2010 preparations and the safety and security of potential World Cup visitors.
South Africa's Deputy Police Commissioner, Andre Pruis, and Ray Whelan, from MATCH AG, FIFA's accommodation and hospitality partner, also joined the panel.
Minister in the Presidency Dr Essop Pahad told the large media contingent that South Africa's staging of the first ever African FIFA World cup was about more than just a football tournament.
"It is about improving the lives of ordinary South African citizens and sending new images of hope, triumph, development and possibility to the rest of the world. For us this event is much more than sports – it is about Africa and the continent's ability to host the world. 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 and that when they come they will receive a wonderfully unforgettable African experience," said Dr Pahad.
Responding to recent reports about FIFA's contingency plans in the event of a natural disaster, FIFA's Secretary General Jérôme Valcke clarified the issue by saying strongly that ''the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be hosted in South Africa, by South Africans and nowhere else”.
"We at FIFA are working very hard in South Africa with South Africa to ensure that the World Cup will happen in South Africa. If we say the FIFA World Cup will take place in South Africa, it will take place in South Africa. The World Cup is such an important event for us, the most important event. It pays for the rest of all our events and we have to make sure that it is a success and the 64 matches all take place,'' said Valcke.
Organising Committee CEO Danny Jordaan said that with the 2008 Beijing Olympics coming to a close, the focus will go south as the 2010 FIFA World Cup is the next big event in the sporting calendar.
"We thought it was important for us to come and talk to you as we come to the closing of the Olympics in Beijing. We know that your cameras and your laptops are going to shift south to South Africa. This is Africa's World Cup. It is an opportunity to showcase the country and the continent," said Jordaan.
And he was adamant the country was diligently on track to grab that opportunity.
''In terms of the stadium construction programme, our deadline for the FIFA Confederation Cup venues is December 2008 - those stadiums are there and they are dealing with upgrades. For the rest of the stadiums, the completion date is October 2009. Eighty percent of those stadiums will be completed by July 2009. In terms of stadium readiness, we can say that will be ready by the end of 2009. All the stadiums will be complete for kick off," Dr Jordaan added.
Deputy Finance Minister Jabu Moleketi, who chairs the 2010 Government Technical Coordinating Committee told the media that the physical and transport infrastructure being developed for the World Cup will serve South Africa long after the 2010 World Cup.
"When you look at the infrastructure preparations for the World Cup, it's about building facilities for sports for instance. The South African government is spending close to R33-billion and that infrastructure will remain for South Africans to utilise beyond 2010," Mr Moleketi said, adding in particular that transport upgrades were crucial for the country's long-term viability.
Deputy National Police Commissioner Andre Pruis said the country's approach to 2010 security was to distinguish between crime prevention and providing world-class event security. "The South African police have been conducting a number of exercises to assess our capability to deal with any form of crime, including anti-terrorism tests and public order policing. We are working closely with countries that have hosted other major events such as Germany and Beijing and we believe our strategy will be able to deal with any crime related incident that may arise, "said Pruis.
Ke nako ! Celebrate Africa's Humanity.
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Issued by: Meropa Communications on behalf of Government Communications (GCIS) and the International Marketing Council of South Africa