South Africa says it is beginning regular briefings on the country's readiness to host the 2010 World Cup in Soccer. It says it wants to counter persistent rumors that it will likely lose the event because it is behind schedule in preparations. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from Johannesburg that, at the first briefing, Deputy Finance Minister Jabu Moleketi said South Africa is ahead of schedule to deliver a well-organized and safe World Cup.
Moleketi told a media briefing in Pretoria that South Africa is ahead of where other countries, such as Germany, were in preparations three years ahead of the event. He said work has started on five new stadiums, and on upgrading five others.
"And all the five new stadia... will be completed in time," said Moleketi. "We have to complete them by October 2009, and a number of them will be completed a month or two earlier than that. And that indicates how serious we are, and to a large extent how ready we are."
The local organizing committee and the government have been stung by persistent rumors that South Africa will never be ready to host the world's premier soccer event, despite assurances by FIFA to the contrary. Moleketi says the pessimists will, in his words, "have to eat their own words come 2009."
South Africa has successfully hosted several major sporting and international events, including rugby and cricket world cups in 1995 and 2003; the Africa Cup of Nations in soccer in 1996; and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.
The government is injecting $1.4 billion into infrastructure for the event, including a rapid-rail network for the Johannesburg-Pretoria complex. Moleketi says other venues will also benefit.
"The plans are in place and the plans include not just the building of roads, widening of roads, but also the procurement of buses and also the installation and I think a very, very innovative decision and an operation from the metros [cities], the rapid bus system," he said.
Critics have focused on South Africa's high crime rate as another reason the cup cannot be held in the country. While the numbers of many serious crimes, including murder, have been decreasing in recent years, others such as rape, have increased. Moleketi says the authorities will step up anti-crime initiatives.
"More resources are going to be given to the South African Police Service to increase the personnel. There will be more 40,000 new police that will be in place between now and 2010," he said. "They will also improve on their technology because policing is not just about people, its about technology."
South Africans hope the FIFA World Cup will lend impetus to the country's economy, create jobs, and boost its burgeoning tourist industry. The government and local organizing committee say they realize that to achieve these goals, they not only have to live up to their promises, they need to demonstrate that they are doing so.