The clock is ticking on South Africa (cont.)
FIFA, frankly, has no option but to pay, and is being increasingly squeezed. As the project leader in one other venue told me: "At first we accepted everything from the great god in Zurich. But not anymore. Now, we have learned to say 'no' to FIFA."
The first test of both South Africa's ability to meet the construction and overall deadlines comes in June with the eight-team Confederations Cup. Suddenly, time is starting to run away with the project. Valcke, on a fact-finding mission of his own for FIFA in November, realized as much, almost with a sense of shock.
"Suddenly we find ourselves just six months away from Confederations Cup and 18 months from the World Cup itself," he says. "So now the preparation time is almost over and we are entering into the implementation and delivery phase of these two events. We are working closely with the local organizing committee and the government -- the current one and the next one to follow the forthcoming elections -- so I can say we are ready.
"The Confederations Cup is a test event but an important event also because we will have the best teams in the world and it will give us a chance to check the structures and all the people from all sides, locally and from FIFA. That will give us a road map of where we have to improve and what we may have to change."
The Cup will also provide a first challenge for the security strategy developed by the charismatic police commissioner Andre Pruis. This will, in some ways, be a misleading test because foreign fans will not turn up in the droves expected -- credit crunch permitting -- a year later. The Confederations Cup will be a local event in crowd terms; indeed, it will be such a local event that Jordaan and his team are concerned that South African supporters will not turn out in the required numbers for all the matches and that television will show an embarrassing number of empty seats around the world.
Pruis, of course, is not concerned about that. His priority is dealing with the consequences of the fan influx which will engulf South Africa in 2010. At least, to his satisfaction, the government has not stinted in handing him the necessary money and increased manpower.
"We have 175,420 police service members and will have around 200,000 by 2010, plus a reserve of 70,000 who can always be called on," Pruis says. "We will also have 400 new mobile camera systems to assist with our command and control strategy. Another advantage we have is that, ahead of an event, you know a number of factors about places which can be flash points such as airports, rail stations, hotels and stadia."
Pruis will rely on significant levels of help and support from the police forces of the competing World Cup finalists. "We would like officers from those forces to deploy with our members and move around with their respective teams," he says. "A specific officer knows the 'vibe' of his fans. For instance, I may look at the situation and think it could be a serious problem whereas he will know it is really nothing to worry about. Then there are language issues and also, laws are different in different countries. One country may allow something we do not like."
The man, however, to whom Schmidt and Pruis and the rest must give way in terms of work on behalf of the cause is Jordaan himself. He led the effort to bring the finals to the Republic and events in June and July of 2010 will fulfill, for him, a vision for his nation which stretches beyond "mere" soccer.
"This World Cup is not only about stadium issues," says Jordaan. "It's about swimming pools, grass, trees, water -- improving the lives of our people. The hope and dream of this World Cup was born at FIFA Congress in Chicago in 1994. The big issue then was the increase in the number of teams at the finals from 24 to 32. When the people of the United States recently looked for hope and change, they looked to Chicago, and this spirit is one we have tried to catch in rebuilding relations in this country.
"Football has become more than just a ball game. We saw that recently when Sepp Blatter went to Palestine for the game between Palestine and Jordan and not a shot was fired that day. That is the power of football and, in South Africa, we are seeking to use that power to re-engage with the world."
This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of World Soccer magazine. To subscribe, click here.