Bullish Blatter must focus on legacy
Forget all the scare stories about crime and security. Don't worry about half-empty, half-finished stadiums. South Africa is ready.
That was the message here in Zurich on Friday from Fifa's top two, Sepp Blatter and Jerome Valcke, the Swiss-Franco partnership driving the vision of Africa's first World Cup.
With 49 days to go to the opening match between South Africa and Mexico at Johannesburg's Soccer City, both Blatter and Valcke were in bullish form at Friday's news conference - the last before the football world heads south - which was held at the opulent monument to football's TV boom, Fifa House.
They claim stadiums will be at 95% capacity after ditching their internet sales process and opting to sell tickets over the counter at centres across the country. There are 300,000 left but Valcke, the Fifa secretary-general, believes the vast majority will go.
Blatter poses with the World Cup mascot, Zakumi. Photo: AP
On security and crime, both dispelled the fears which have seemingly prevented foreign visitors from committing to trips this summer. Blatter said we, the media, had got it wrong by inflating the scale of the fear factor. "Millions of visitors go to South Africa every year," said the Fifa president. "Now they will suddenly stop because there is a World Cup? It's the wrong approach."
Valcke revealed that anticipated visitor numbers for the month of the World Cup were now up to 360,000. Slowly, perhaps with flight and hotel prices dropping and the event drawing nearer, people from all parts of the globe are starting to get excited.
Blatter certainly is, expressing, in a way which only he can, that he felt like an actor about to take to the stage for the big performance. Never mind the world's best players - Lionel Messi, Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo - it's all about Blatter's grand vision.
He said taking the World Cup to Africa - one of the three missions he set himself when he was elected president in 1998 - would help tackle poverty, education and health problems in the sub-Saharan region. No small claim for a 64-match event taking place over 30 days.
Clearly no sporting event can do that. If poverty, education and health problems are to be addressed, then governments need to act to ensure South Africa is left with a lasting legacy when the TV cameras have gone home and the vuvuzelas have fallen silent.
But with concerns over South Africa's readiness beginning to fade - although clearly security worries are not going to suddenly vanish - it is the tournament's legacy which provides the real challenge for Blatter and Valcke now.