With less than 400 days to the 2010 opening match, do you feel South Africa is on course to host the greatest World Cup ever?

We are now really entering the final lap of this momentous journey, with the Fifa Confederations Cup a little more than 70 days ahead and the Fifa World Cup only 62 weeks away. But we have a clear plan of what must be accomplished in the days that remain. The reassurance and commitment by the authorities in charge make us confident with the way things are progressing in those areas. The staging of an event of the magnitude of the World Cup is challenging for any host nation.

What are your impressions of the preparations for the Confederations Cup and the 2010 World Cup?

We are on track. I will not say that we are ready, definitely not, but there is no real red light where we have the feeling that we are facing a real challenge in some of the issues we have. But there is still a lot of work to do and the most important thing is we cannot lose any days; I mean we are … in … very, very tight timing, that’s why it’s important now to make sure we will deliver with the Local Organising Committee, or the LOC will deliver with Fifa on time.

In your opinion, what needs to be done to make this World Cup a success?

We still have more than a year to go before the World Cup; right now, obviously, the focus is on the Confederations Cup which is a major yardstick on the way to 2010. We have to make the tournament a success. It’s the perfect time for us to rehearse … and to make sure that we will be able to have a list of things still to be done by, let’s say, the end of June; so that’s why it’s so important to have the Confederations Cup. It’s also a way to start and to learn how to work together – between the South Africans, the LOC and Fifa.

The last time you were in South Africa, you seemed unimpressed with the amount of advertising; what are your impressions now?

The reason I had raised the issue of lack of (street) branding, was because I thought with six months to go, the tournament was not visible enough on the streets. For example, in Germany, I think they ran lots of ticket promotional material for the Confederations. What we need to see is the passion from the streets; we need to see South Africans excited about this event. After all, it’s their tournament.

From your experience, and with the time left to the World Cup, are the people of South Africa in a World Cup mood?

We were delighted to learn that according to a recent opinion poll by Sport & Marketing, three out of every four respondents are confident the country will be ready to host the biggest show on earth, and a staggering 88percent say that they are proud to be the host nation. This fervour is also already palpable and it is always a pleasure for me to come to South Africa as everybody is so proud and excited to host 2010, from the President of the country to the workers on the street.

Is Fifa satisfied with ticket sales for both the World Cup and Confederations Cup?

The response on the World Cup tickets has been impressive; we have been overwhelmed by the applications that we have received. We have received more than one million ticket applications; by any standards, that is very good. That means in four weeks, more than one million people in 160 countries have already declared their interest in this event; that’s good. However, in terms of ticket sales for the Confederations Cup we need the buy-in of the South African public; people from this country must rally behind the event. We cannot have a situation in the Confederations Cup whereby the host nation plays in front of a half-empty stadium. This would be very bad for South Africa and its image on a global scale.

Do you have any security concerns? What measures do you think still need to be put in place?

It’s true that security is number one on the list of such an event, but this is also true for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil or the upcoming events in Nigeria and Egypt. Our job is to make sure that every fan, every official, every journalist and every player that comes to SA in the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, will be safe. We want to deliver a safe World Cup. I must commend the SA government who have also devised a very strong security plan, which includes deploying more police during the 2010 World Cup. Fifa’s belief in these commitments is reinforced by the fact that in the past South Africa has successfully hosted major international sporting events such as the rugby and cricket World Cups including the successful African Cup of Nations.

Does the country have enough accommodation to accommodate the influx of expected visitors?

Well, to be honest, accommodation is still a challenge. As of today, I think we have about 35000 secured rooms of the 55000 beds required during the event period. That means we need to secure another 20000 more beds before next year. So our service partner, Match, is working closely with the tourism industry to solve this situation.

Do you think the transport system, including the Gautrain, will be up to scratch?

Minister Jeff Radebe has assured us that they have a very good transport plan in place for the tournament, to cater for the influx of visitors.

In your opinion, do you think Bafana Bafana’s performances on the field have improved? Do you think they will be ready to put up a competitive performance come 2010?

The success of a home team is always important for any event, and that is no different for the South African national team. But one other thing that the people of South Africa must remember, is this – if another African side goes all the way, they must support that team. For us, it will be great if an African side goes to the semi-finals and beyond.

What legacy do you hope will be left after 2010?

We have always said that this World Cup must have a lasting legacy not only for the people of South Africa, but for the rest of the African continent. You must remember, it is for the first time in the history of Fifa that … (a) World Cup is hosted on African soil; that in itself is a legacy. What we want is that, 20 years from now, people in SA should have fond memories of this tournament. For a country that has achieved so much since 1994, I’m positive that SA will make the rest of Africa very proud.

PUBLICATION: Daily Dispatch Online
DATED: 4th April 2009