Gleaming, fully complete stadiums, perfectly manicured lush green pitches, world-class technology and strong feelings of immense pride in a job magnificently done.
This was the scene at every one of the 2010 FIFA World Cup stadiums this week, as South Africa’s Host Cities formally handed over to the tournament’s Organising Committee (OC) and FIFA the football cathedrals that will play host to world sport’s biggest event from 11 June to 11 July 2010.
After six years of back-breaking hard work and intense global scrutiny of their ability to timeously deliver, South Africa’s nine tournament Host Cities have in good time produced stadiums - matching and exceeding world-class standards - which will soon be known the world over and watched by billions of television viewers.
OC CEO, Dr Danny Jordaan, and FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke this week visited first Tshwane/Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Rustenburg’s Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace, Mangaung/Bloemfontein’s Free State Stadium, Cape Town's Green Point and Durban Stadium to ceremonially unveil stadium plaques during a tour of all ten stadiums ahead of the tournament.
“This is the beginning of the World Cup. We’re here to officially take over operational responsibility of the stadiums, but also to thank all the Host Cities for all the years of hard work and preparations and for excellent delivery of world-class facilities. It’s absolutely wonderful seeing the stadiums handed over in a state of complete readiness, with stadium media centres, volunteer centres and broadcast areas already in place,” said Jordaan.
“Now, the difference maker of this World Cup is going to be our people, their warmth and the way they will embrace and celebrate the tournament. That will leave the lasting impression,” he added.
Valcke said during the whistle-stop tour that the issue of South Africa being ready for the tournament was no longer a factor.
“Now, it’s time to enjoy the World Cup. It will come and go so fast. It’s time now for all of us to be together, enjoy great football and have a great time in South Africa,” Valcke said.
Long a source of contention, one of the most pleasing aspects of the tour was the magnificent quality of the playing surfaces at all the country’s World Cup stadiums, with the excellent playing surfaces sure to find favour with the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Fernando Torres and Wayne Rooney in South Africa over the coming weeks.
Valcke, however, singled out the Green Point Stadium, which he said “has the best pitch of all the stadiums”.
“We will take care of your stadiums and make sure we return it looking just as nice as it was when you handed it over to us, except perhaps for some damage to the pitch in the coming weeks,” Valcke assured Host Cities.
Former Cape Town mayor and now Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, perfectly summed up the feelings of all civil servants and workers involved with this mammoth project.
“What a wonderful job, what a great partnership. It’s been such an extraordinary project, with so many people involved. South African project managers have trumped every expectation with the incredible work they’ve done. Let’s now transform the world’s perception of our country,” said Zille.
By the end of the week Jordaan and Valcke will have unveiled the plaque at Ellis Park stadium while FIFA President Joseph Blatter will this weekend join them for the final stops of the tour at Polokwane’s Peter Mokaba Stadium, Nelspruit’s Mbombela Stadium and Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.