No one can rightly question Fifa president Sepp Blatter’s commitment to SA staging the 2010 World Cup. But thecanny Fifa boss has suddenly switched tactics to create a new “Plan B” escape route for himself if matters become too complex for SA to fulfil its necessary commitments for 2010.

SA’s persuasive World Cup Local Organising Committee CEO, Danny Jordaan, this week repeated with some justification, if excessive piety, that “only God can take the World Cup away from SA”.

This came after the Fifa president’s revised stance on the hosting of the tournament during the recent European Nations Cup in Vienna had created rumblings of anxiety.

However, if nothing has changed — as Jordaan insists — and SA is moving at full speed towards completing the build-up programme for 2010, what prompted Blatter suddenly to veer like a car avoiding an unexpected obstruction from his time-worn sentiment that “Fifa’s Plan A for the World Cup is SA; Fifa’s Plan B for the World Cup is SA; and Fifa’s Plan C for the World Cup is SA”?

“Of course,” said Blatter, seemingly forgetting his previous protestations, “Fifa has a Plan B to switch the World Cup in case an unforeseen phenomenon like an earthquake hits SA.”

And to emphasise his new stance, Blatter added: “If I did not have a Plan B as a standby in case of such an emergency, I would not be doing my job as a good president of Fifa.”

Is it presumptuous to question whether Blatter was being “a good president of Fifa” when he insisted Plan A, Plan B and Plan C were all geared to SA staging the Cup?

Or is there another explanation for the wily, opinionated Fifa president’s reassessed attitude?

Perhaps it a gentle warning to Jordaan and his organising team to face full-square the magnitude of the task and talk less about staging the best World Cup ever as though this was a mere formality.

Blatter could be genuinely concerned about the rampant crime, the glaring transport problems that are seemingly to be eliminated at the drop of a hat at the last minute.

He could also be worried about the ineptitude of Bafana and the blatant shortcomings of the local organising staff, which Fifa’s own professional imports might not be able to paper over completely.

And all this without the work-force complexities that could arise in ensuring all 10 stadiums earmarked for 2010 are up to scratch.
Blatter’s jealously guarded, if controversial, reputation is more or less on the line over whether SA provides a World Cup that at least meets past standards.

It seems at this juncture that he remains as committed as ever to it being “Africa’s time”, although inwardly he could be a little anxious over how the preparations are evolving.

And should push come to shove and matters become too tricky to handle, don’t expect Blatter to go down the tubes with SA.

He has created an escape hatch for himself and he will surely use it as a last resort.

But as matters stand and in spite of the mountain that remains to be scaled, the chances of the World Cup being staged in SA in 2010 remain good.

Blatter says the test for SA will come next year when the eight-nation Confederations Cup involving soccer super powers of the calibre of Brazil, Italy and Spain will participate in what is a precursor to the World Cup.

The Confederations Cup, however, although a mouthwatering dress rehearsal, will attract only a fraction of the overseas supporters expected in 2010 — and from an organisational point of view it does not compare with the Fifa World Cup.

The true test for South African soccer — and for Blatter, for that matter — will be in 2010, when SA will need to come up with the goods for posterity.

PUBLICATION: Business Day
AUTHOR: SY LERMAN
DATED: 4th July 2008