FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter has had many South Africans tell him confidently that the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ will be the best tournament ever. The group that made the claim today at Durban's Moses Mabhida World Cup stadium, however, were particularly significant.
"We love you Sepp. We love you," cheered construction workers at the stadium when the FIFA President paid a visit to the venue this morning. "Welcome to South Africa. We will hold the best World Cup ever. Viva South Africa, viva. Viva 2010."
Blatter was in vintage form as he clapped and sang with the workers, who regaled him with a stirring rendition of "Shosholoza" - a popular local tune which has become South African workers' theme song whenever the FIFA President visits FIFA World Cup stadium sites in the country.
Blatter's visits to South Africa invariably grab the headlines and capture attention, but the timing of his visit to Durban was particularly relevant today. Moses Mabhida has recently been the focal point of strike action by construction workers, nearly leading to a nationwide stadium strike which was averted this week after successful negotiations between union and construction leaders.
Despite the short period of strike action, Durban's FIFA World Cup stadium is well on track and on schedule, with Organising Committee Chief Executive Officer Dr Danny Jordaan listing it recently as one of the "star performers" of World Cup construction. And the joyful, festive reception Blatter received from the construction workers went a long way to dispelling any doubts about whether the stadium, which will seat 70,000 and host a FIFA World Cup semi-final in 2010, will be ready for the tournament.
"It gives me a point of emotion when I am coming to this stadium, especially meeting with the workers," said President Blatter. "A lot of compliments have been given to the architects, designers, mayor of the city and everybody, but the real artists of the stadium is the workers.
"The workers here have lined up to greet me like 11 players on the field of play. They are working stone by stone to make sure the stadium is completed on time. Those stadiums will be a legacy for your families, for the use of your country and for the people of all Africa. The reactions have all been positive. In such an achievement (of building a FIFA World Cup stadium) everyone is important, especially the workers."
Asked if he had any concerns about whether South Africa would be ready to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010, Blatter's response was emphatic. "I can say no, no. As FIFA President I am very confident. Here in Durban we are ahead of schedule. We can even lose time," he told the media at the stadium, before quickly adding, "no, no, we must go forward".
Asked about the importance of tomorrow's Preliminary Draw in Durban, President Blatter said the draw was a very important signal to the world that South Africa would be a good FIFA World Cup host. "It (the draw) is very important, because it's the real kick-off in South Africa, here in Durban where South African football was founded. Tomorrow all the television cameras will be open to the World Cup. It will spread the message to the world that the World Cup is now an African World Cup and everyone will be happy," especially the FIFA President," he said.
Asked about his impressions of the Preliminary Draw preparations thus far at the International Convention Centre (ICC) where the draw will be held, Blatter was equally effusive. "Have a look at the ICC. Have a look and feel the emotion of the people behind this draw and you will see it will be a very exceptional draw," President Blatter concluded.