National Press Club

S. Africa Promises to be Ready for 2010 World Cup

April 29, 2009 | By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Lucas Radebe, 2010 FIFA ambassador

Lucas Radebe, 2010 FIFA ambassador

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Despite a severe global recession, South African officials told a
Newsmaker audience on April 27 that the country will be prepared to host the 2010 World Cup -- an event that they hope will underscore the country’s political progress and draw millions of visitors.

“All (South African) financial institutions are well,” said Ambassador Welile Nhlapo. “We’re not taking bailouts for anybody.”

He said that the country is meeting all the economic requirements for hosting the World Cup. South Africa will have two practice runs before next summer. It is currently running a major criquet tournament and this summer will be the site for the Conferderations Cup, a World Cup preliminary tournament.

“We believe we will be able to deliver a very good World Cup,” Nhlapo said.

For Lucas Radebe, hosting the tournament is a affirmation of African soccer. Better known in his country as “The Chief,” Radebe has captained the South African national team and Leeds United in the English Premier League. His success on the pitch has been an inspiration for future African players.

“I would never have dreamt the tournament would take place on our own door step,” said Radebe, who is now a 2010 World Cup ambassador. “The tournament gives us a chance to showcase our beautiful country.”

Radebe grew up as one of 11 children in a tough Soweto neighborhood during the depths of apartheid violence. The World Cup festivities will give his country a chance to celebrate its political progress. The Newsmaker was held five days after South Africa’s parliamentary elections and on the 15th anniversary of the end of apartheid.

Nhlapo praised the voter turnout. “At the end of the day, we can say despite the current economic meltdown, it worked quite well,” he said.

Being the center of global attention brings with it political pressure. South Africa caused an uproar last month when it refused to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama for a peace conference linked to the World Cup.

Critics said the country was bowing to China.

Nhlapo denied that China was involved. He said that the Dalai Lama’s visit would have created controversy in the heat of South Africa’s election.

“We don’t need any pressure from China to take an informed decision,” Nhlapo said. “South Africa is a stubborn country. If we don’t want to do anything, we don’t do it.”

What South Africa is sure to do is reap the economic benefits of hosting the World Cup. It will have invested $2 billion in the event by the time the tournament ends. It will sell a total of three million tickets and expects millions more visitors beyond the soccer spectators.

“Tourism is becoming the new gold for South Africa,” said Sthu Zungu, president of South African Tourism-North America.

Many of the visitors will be from the United States, which ranks second behind the United Kingdom in ticket purchases outside of South Africa.

“The U.S. demand for tickets is off the charts compared to anywhere else,” said Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer.