One year today, the 19th edition of the FIFA World Cup™ will get underway. For the host nation, it is now dress rehearsal time. Brazil, Egypt, Italy, Iraq, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and USA are ready to fight for glory in the FIFA Confederations Cup, which begins on Sunday.
As South Africa prepares to stage the "Festival of Champions", and further whet fans' appetites for next year's unique extravaganza, FIFA.com caught up with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter to discuss the two competitions, what they will bring to Africa, and how football can help the economy.
FIFA.com: President Blatter, with just a year to go until the FIFA World Cup, are you confident the host country will impress by staging a memorable FIFA Confederations Cup?
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter: It's definitely time to kick off now, not only in terms of the organisation in South Africa, but in terms of making sure they can deliver and will deliver. That's why this Confederations Cup, one year before the big event, is crucial. It's very important for FIFA but also for the participating teams. I'm sure it will be a great competition, especially if you look at the names of the participants.
The economic crisis has continued to worsen. You mentioned that football can help to overcome this. Can you explain how this is possible?
Everybody is affected by the economic crisis. Every single individual, all around the world. What do people need in a situation like this? As the ancient Romans used to say, "give them bread and give them entertainment", panem et circenses in Latin. Food is available to most people, but they also need hope and entertainment. Football is modern entertainment and provides us with the emotions we need. We will start to feel these emotions now at the Confederations Cup, a big competition, just one year before the World Cup. It is a message from South Africa to the African continent, and from there to the world. I'm very happy that we have this important tournament in our schedule at this time.
Four teams have already qualified for South Africa 2010. Do you feel the fever growing?
Absolutely. Even after 34 years working for FIFA, I still have the football fever. On top of this, I'm very happy for the teams that have already qualified - the footballing powerhouses of Asia, Japan and Korea Republic, have regularly been present at the World Cup, and Australia have made it again, although this time through the AFC qualifiers, and finally the Netherlands in Europe. Many others are set to follow soon and join Bafana Bafana. The fact that teams have already qualified gives the impression that we are on our way there, and that's great.
Jacob Zuma, the President of the Republic of South Africa, recently said: "We, the government and the nation at large, have pledged that the World Cup will leave a proud legacy from which our children and our communities will benefit for many years to come." This is a strong message. Do you think it illustrates how immersed the country is in the FIFA World Cup?
South Africa is not only ready, South Africa is committed. I'm glad that the "political vacuum" of the last few months has now been resolved by the elections and the installation of Jacob Zuma as the President of the Republic of South Africa. He's a strong man. He likes football and has realised what the World Cup can bring to his country and the whole continent. That's why he will do everything possible to appeal to his whole population. I'm sure the people of South Africa will listen to him, and perhaps also to me as FIFA President when I say: "Leave a legacy by showing the world you are capable of organising such a competition. You have the confidence and trust not only of FIFA, but also of the fans." If you look at the number of World Cup tickets already sold to those outside South Africa, a year before kick-off, it shows everyone wants to go there. And on top of that, South Africa is an excellent tourist destination, which adds even more interest.
So, what's on the agenda in the 12 months before South Africa 2010 gets underway?
We will have other FIFA competitions in Africa this year. Not only the FIFA Confederations Cup, but also the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt and the U-17 World Cup in Nigeria, both with 24 teams. So this really is an African year in terms of football. There will also be the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola at the start of 2010. Then we will all focus on the World Cup itself. Therefore my agenda will be completely focused on the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa.