DURBAN: Schoolchildren will ditch their uniforms for football jerseys, while dancers will take to the streets on Tuesday as South Africa celebrates the 100-day countdown to the World Cup. Top FIFA officials, including the world football body president Sepp Blatter and secretary general Jerome Valcke, will mark the occasion in Durban with a press conference aimed at dispelling doubts about South Africa’s readiness for the June 11 to July 11 tournament. They’ll be winding up a tour of the 10 stadiums that will host the matches, aiming to reassure naysayers that despite some work being done on the pitches and the surrounding grounds, all the venues are on track for the kick-off.
South Africa has poured 33 billion rand (3.9 billion dollars, 3.2 billion euros) into preparations for the tournament. The heavy construction is already finished at all the stadiums. Soccer City, the 95,000-seat venue for the opening and final matches should be handed over within a month. Major upgrades to airports in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Bloemfontein are complete, while Durban’s new airport is set to open on May 1. Valcke said on Monday that on a scale from one to 10, South Africa’s readiness was at an eight. “We will be at 10 on June 11,” he said. “In terms of readiness, South Africa is ready to host the World Cup in 2010.” Ordinary South Africans are being urged to get into the spirit by wearing the green and yellow jersey of the Bafana Bafana national side, blowing the vuvuzela trumpets that are ubiquitous at local matches and waving the national flag, said Danny Jordaan, head of the local organising committee. He said South Africans were also being urged to learn their national anthem, which includes verses in five of the country’s 11 official languages, and to buy tickets for the matches. “We see a tremendous response,” Jordaan said last week. FIFA says that 2.2 of the 2.9 million tickets have already been sold, even though fewer foreign fans are expected to attend.
South Africa is banking on 450,000 foreign visitors, though the actual number could be lower, with many fans overseas still recovering from the shock of the global recession. The 100-day mark will give South Africa a chance to try to overcome lingering concerns about the games, especially security in a nation with one of the highest crime rates in the world, averaging 50 murders each day. South Africa has spent more than 2.4 billion rand on security, recruiting 41,000 additional police and buying hi-tech equipment for the competition. Overall, South Africans are increasingly optimistic about the World Cup. A survey out on Monday found that 85 percent believe the nation will ready for the games. The public was less rosy about the chances about the hot-and-cold fortunes of Bafana Bafana – only 55 percent said they thought the team was ready to compete.
You know who I’ll be cheering on during the World Cup!