21 December 2009
2009 will be remembered as the year that South Africa staked its claim to hosting a successful 2010 Fifa World Cup™.
Certainly, the past 12 months have marked an extraordinary turnaround in the preparations for this mega sporting event. Just a year ago, the hosts of the tournament were reeling after a series of near catastrophic events.
There were serious doubts that South Africa would ride out an outbreak of xenophobia, a wave of electricity blackouts, labour disruptions on key 2010 construction projects, and a major political, judicial and constitutional crisis which saw the recall of Thabo Mbeki as President of the Republic.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter, an ardent supporter of hosting the World Cup in South Africa, confirmed the apprehension of the international community when he coined the term “Plan B”, suggesting that the governing body had a contingency plan in place in the event that South Africa could not meet its requirements.
But what a difference a year can make. Sanity prevailed and, for the most part, South Africa confounded its critics.
Foreigners were reintegrated into the communities they had fled, power was restores to the electricity grid, construction workers and project managers settled their differences and completed some of the world’s most magnificent stadiums.
And, of course, Jacob Zuma, who was swept into power, is currently enjoying high approval ratings.
If “Plan B” was the catch phrase of 2008, it has now been replaced by 2010 Organising Committee CEO Danny Jordan’s “death to doubt”.
Jordaan was referring to the completion of most 2010-related construction projects and the magnificent 2010 Final Draw in December, which determined the grouping for next year’s tournament.
Another remarkable turnaround has come from the international media. Where they were fuelling the fire a year ago, they are now reporting (in unison) that South Africa is on target with its World Cup plans and has the capabilities to host a magnificent spectacle.
The next six months will bring a new set of challenges as we fine-tune the 2010 machinery to ensure that there will be no last-minute hitches.
Six months before the previous edition of the tournament in Germany, an extraordinary social revolution under the “Land of Ideas” initiative saw the entire country – from east to west – unite behind one mega sporting event.
We can look forward to the same. The excitement of 2010 is now bubbling under the surface, and South Africa can look forward to staking its claim as the most powerful model of unity on the planet.
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010