South Africa has had its work cut out convincing the world it will be capable 2010 FIFA World Cup™ hosts, but International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Dr Jacques Rogge is one of the country's most influential backers.
Rogge this week completed a five-day visit of southern Africa, during which he used South Africa as his base, and on his trip he said unequivocally that he is "absolutely convinced" that South Africa will host a successful 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
"South Africa is by far the most advanced country, in terms of economics, sports expertise and political stability on the African continent. You have great infrastructure and also importantly you have a very good football team. You saw the importance of having a good home team when you hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup (which South Africa won). I'm not forecasting a victory for South Africa in the FIFA World Cup in 2010 of course, but I know you will definitely put on a very good show," Rogge said in an interview.
He added that South Africa had a good track record of hosting major sporting events and that he had no doubt the country was equal to the task of hosting the African continent's first FIFA World Cup™.
"I don't think you have many very big challenges. There are always things that can be improved, but you are capable of organising big events. South Africans have proved themselves to be good athletes in the past and also good organisers, having successfully hosted the IRB Rugby World Cup in 1995 and the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003. South Africa's a wonderful country, with wonderful people. It's always hard work until the very last moment to host an event as big as the FIFA World Cup, but you have all the fundamentals in place to host a successful tournament," said Dr Rogge.
During his South African trip Dr Rogge visited SAFA House, the headquarters of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa, and was given what he called a "very impressive" briefing by the OC on the progress of the country's preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
"Like the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup triggers a lot of expectations in the host country and in the whole world. Organising it is never easy. But I received a briefing that was very impressive and reassuring. The FIFA World Cup, together with the Olympics, are the largest sporting events in the world. The Organising Committee is a very professional team that sets very clear deadlines and those deadlines are met," said Dr Rogge after his visit to SAFA House.
He added that during the planning phase of such massive undertakings as the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics it was inevitable that critics would often question the progress of preparations.
"There are always question marks because people don't see anything tangible occurring. The FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009 will make people excited about the FIFA World Cup. We see the same with the torch bearing for the Olympics. People want to see before they believe. The more you progress, the more you see the approval rates augmenting. Let me be very clear, I am absolutely convinced that South Africa in particular, and Africa generally, are capable of hosting this major sporting event," said Dr Rogge.
The Olympic football tournament has played a more prominent role in the success of the Olympics in recent times and Rogge said the IOC's relationship with FIFA was a very good one.
"I have a wonderful relationship with FIFA and its president Joseph Blatter is an influential and positive IOC member. I can say without exaggeration that football is the biggest sport in the world and the FIFA World Cup, together with the Olympic Games, are the two major sporting events. We at the IOC have regular meetings with FIFA and I want to congratulate Sepp Blatter for having the brilliant and generous idea of having the FIFA World Cup in Africa for the first time. I am sure it's going to be a great success," said Dr Rogge.
Dr Rogge's visit to South Africa was to familiarise himself with issues relating to sport and Olympism in South Africa and the rest of the African continent.
He said the development of sport on the African continent is one of the IOC's biggest priorities, with the IOC committing itself to spending $65 million on developing sport on the continent.