FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke playfully joined construction workers in donning his hard hat and digging a spade in the sand as he visited Loftus Versfeld.

It was a light-hearted moment – in South Africa there is always time for a bit of light relief – but Valcke’s first visit to the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 and 2010 FIFA World Cup™ stadium yesterday was nevertheless a serious one.

Valcke had come to see first-hand the progress made on a stadium that will be one of the venues for next year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, being held in South Africa from 14 June to 28 June 2009. The FIFA Secretary General is in South Africa for Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Directors of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa (OC), but used the opportunity to meet key officials from the City of Tshwane and to see the stadium for himself.

During his visit Valcke met Cornelius Mokoena, the Tshwane Member of the Mayoral Committee in charge of planning and development within the City, the City’s 2010 co-ordinator Godrey Nkwane, as well as Joseph Tshawe, the General Manager of Homeless Building Construction, a company working with unskilled homeless workers who have been trained to work on some of the country’s construction sites, including Loftus.

Loftus is an existing venue which regularly hosts major international rugby matches and where Barcelona last year played against local side Mamelodi Sundowns.

Still, while the 50 000-seater stadium was fully operational for a major match as recently as yesterday, it is still being upgraded to meet FIFA standards for next year’s Confederations Cup and the World Cup in 2010.

It is due to be ready for the Confederations Cup by the end of this year, with officials saying yesterday they were confident of meeting their deadlines, despite a few delays and ongoing rugby matches while construction is underway.

“I can assure you we are working 24/7 to achieve our goals and to deliver the stadium in time for the FIFA Confederations Cup next year and to stage a fantastic FIFA World Cup in 2010. We initially faced some delays due to issues in procurement of contractors, but we are now working on a six-month schedule to ensure the upgrades will be finalised by December 5 2008. We are convinced that with the team we currently have in place we will make up any delays and the stadium will be ready on time,” Mokoena told Valcke during the visit.

“It was great for me to have been here to see the stadium for the first time. With great interest, we heard the reports from the host city on the progress of the upgrades and really look forward to seeing these being implemented at least 50 percent by the time the next FIFA inspection is held, which is scheduled for late September,” said Valcke.

He added that with new European champions Spain joining the Confederations Cup line-up, which also included South American champions Brazil, defending world champions Italy, hosts South Africa, African champions Egypt, Asian champions Iraq and CONCACAF champions United States, it was “important to ensure everything is working well on every level” for the Confederations Cup.

“This will be a great stadium. There’s still a lot of work to do, but I am confident this stadium will be delivered on time for the Confederations Cup,” Valcke added.

The OC’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Danny Jordaan, said the OC’s Executive Committee had met with Tshwane’s top officials on June 18 last month and were very happy with the progress made at Loftus.

“Loftus is a venue that is being used on a regular basis. We had to consider the ongoing matches in the context of the construction needed that must be completed by December. But we’ve been assured by everybody concerned that the stadium will be ready and we are happy that FIFA’s Secretary General came to see the progress first-hand,” said Dr Jordaan.