Just as the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ in Japan and Korea Republic was a defining moment in Asia's football history, so 2010 promises a similar turning point for Africa.
That was the view expressed today by Japan's Junji Ogura, a FIFA Executive Committee Member, who was speaking at a packed Tokyo briefing to update Japanese and international media on ongoing preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. With some of the world's top clubs in town for the FIFA Club World Cup, it was a good opportunity for FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, the CEO of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee Danny Jordaan, South Africa's Ambassador to Japan Gert Grobler, and Ogura to briefly turn the spotlight on South Africa 2010.
"Back then, with Japan and Korea hosting the first FIFA World Cup in Asia and the first to be co-hosted, the international media was a bit worried about whether we could do it," said Ogura. "Asian people too were anxious to see whether the World Cup would be successful or not. Japan and Korea did not at the time have huge roots in world football. But South Korea reached the semi-finals, Japan the last 16, and the event was successful. Because of those factors, Asian people were so pleased and honoured. It lifted the confidence of Asian people and triggered a boost for football in Asian countries."
This passion for the game in Asia is certainly evident in Japan's thriving J.League, with the FIFA President commenting on the atmosphere in the stands from Gamba Osaka's predominantly young fans during yesterday's FIFA Club World Cup victory over Adelaide United. Ogura said the first FIFA World Cup in Asia not only led to the development of Asian nations and economies, but also to the building of lifelong friendships and relationships between Asia and the rest of the world.
By way of an example, he said that hosting Cameroon had fostered relations that have continued in strong economic and social ties, with the Indomitable Lions well supported whenever they return to Japan. "This kind of great exchange of friendship is something the 2010 FIFA World Cup will impart and I am sure it will be very successful."
For Blatter, as South Africa's organisers end 2008 having made good progress in their preparations, it was another opportunity to state unequivocally that FIFA's flagship tournament will take place on African soil. "I am very happy that I can say the 2010 FIFA World Cup will finally be on African soil in multi-cultural South Africa," he said. "If there are still people who doubt it, I say: the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be in South Africa."
Memories were evoked of Blatter uttering these same words when he unveiled South Africa as 2010 FIFA World Cup hosts on 15 May 2004, and although much has happened since then, his vision remains the same. He said: "We're very proud to bring this World Cup there and at the end of the day to say we've realised something. The World Cup in South Africa will show the world that South Africans and Africans are able to organise the most popular sporting competition in the world."
Jordaan and Grobler said ties between Japan and South Africa were very strong, with the former insisting that concerns from the Japanese and others about security for World Cup were being taken very seriously. He said the South African government had invested R1.3 billion in security for the event and were training 41,000 additional police officers.
"Security for any major event is the most important aspect and we take it very seriously," said Jordaan. "We want the outcome that everyone coming to South Africa 2010 must come back as a returning tourist."
Valcke said South Africa would be a transformed country after 2010 and that FIFA was absolutely convinced of the country's ability to host the tournament. "South Africa is not ready today. No country is 18 months before a World Cup. But there's no doubt South Africa will be ready. We're on track. There are no red flags. We're working daily to ensure that it will be one of the greatest events in the world."