2010: Fifa challenge SA

Everything went smoothly in Germany as far as the organisational aspect of the tournament was concerned and the onus is now on South Africa ‘ the first ever African hosts of the World Cup ‘ to at least maintain the standards.

Fifa have challenged South Africa and the continent in general to stage the best ever World Cup.

Head of Fifa’s South African 2010 World Cup office, Michael Palmer, told the South African Football Association (Safa) website that the country should work hard to make the tournament one to remember.

“Fifa wants this to happen, really, really wants this to happen. It’s not as if Fifa’s opposed to a World Cup in Africa, Fifa went out of its way to have a World Cup in Africa and there’s no trepidation at all about having it there and having it delivered.

“People will say it will be difficult and that certain things won’t be achieved, but if people want it to happen, it will happen. There needs to be a unity of excitement, but also of planning and delivery. I’ve seen nothing to suggest that won’t happen,” Palmer said.

An Australian former stockbroker handpicked a year ago by Fifa to head its South African office in the build-up to 2010, Palmer said Fifa had very high hopes for Africa’s first World Cup.

“From Fifa’s point of view, as long as the integrity of the competition is going to be guaranteed, then Fifa will be happy.”

“But we have bigger hopes for this, that the 2010 World Cup will change the world’s perception of the African continent and provide wonderful opportunities for people in the future. The hope is that it will be the sporting event that does the most good for a country and a continent,” said Palmer.

The Tasmanian was in charge of the test event programme for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, ran the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester and was the head of venue management for the Uefa Champions League for three seasons before he was approached by Fifa in June 2005 to run its South African 2010 operation.

The 43-year-old was bowled over by the warmth and enthusiasm of South Africans and had no hesitation in accepting the job.

“They flew me down and I immediately decided I wanted to do this. My first impression was of how excited everybody was. I’ve not been disappointed at all.

“It was one of the things that made the job really appealing. If you’ve got that many positive people, something good’s got to happen. I thought this is going to be a great place to work and I’ve not been disappointed at all,” said Palmer.

South Africa will be using 10 existing and new World Cup stadiums and Palmer says Fifa is confident they would be ready on time.

“The one thing I’m not worried about is the stadiums. There are good, experienced people working on them, and there’s been real support from the South African government to get the funding in place. So we feel pretty confident about the stadiums.

“The South Africa 2010 Local Organising Committee has so far delivered for Fifa everything they were supposed to, ahead of schedule and our view of them at the moment is excellent. They have been working quietly behind the scenes, as Fifa have not wanted the focus taken away from Germany.

“That will change the moment Germany 2006 finishes, and then people will see how much progress the committee, government and cities have made. Having the host city agreements signed a year in advance was a major achievement, something not achieved in Germany,” said Palmer.

He said the Germany 2006 organising committee had received much credit for its organisation and for concepts like the extremely successful Fan Fest project, where millions of fans had gathered to watch live matches on gigantic screens in every German World Cup city.

“I think it can be much bigger in South Africa and have a much better atmosphere. South Africa now has the opportunity to do this any way it wants,” said Palmer.

As for the country’s crime problems, Palmer acknowledged they are a reality, but his view is that South Africa is “not unsafe at all”.

“It’s no different to living anywhere else. You see the statistics and you read the stories and they are very sad. But to me there is certainly a perception that does not balance with the reality of living in South Africa,” said Palmer.

July 2006
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