South African President Jacob Zuma, who once played football while imprisoned under the Apartheid regime, kicked a ball into a crowd of construction workers at Green Point stadium to start the one-year countdown to June 11, 2010 World Cup.
REUTERS - South African President Jacob Zuma, who once played soccer as an apartheid prisoner, on Thursday started the one-year countdown to the 2010 World Cup and said its success would confound sceptics.
Zuma who both played and refereed football at the notorious Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for two decades, kicked a ball into a crowd of construction workers at Green Point stadium to start the countdown to June 11, 2010.
"When we got it, people said you can't do it," said Zuma, referring to earlier widespread doubts that his country could pull off Africa's first World Cup.
"We have been travelling up and down and arguing all the time to proof the point that we'll make. We've made it," said Zuma, inaugurated as president only last month.
The brand new Cape Town stadium, still under construction, is one of 10 World Cup venues. Officials say all of them will be finished by December and the widespread earlier fears that South Africa would not be ready are now mostly muted.
Jerome Valcke, secretary-general of football's governing body FIFA, agreed South Africa was on track to host a successful tournament, despite concerns over the impact of the global recession and the country's fearsome record for violent crime, one of the worst in the world. .
He said it was now up to South Africa, which will deploy 41,000 police officers to protect fans and players, to meet the needs of foreign visitors.
"Security is an issue all around the world. I think... the World Cup in South Africa will be a great World Cup," Valcke told reporters at the stadium, as the sounds of a vuvuzela, a local trumpet used by football fans and one of the symbols of 2010, blasted out.
Organisers hope a boom in infrastructure spending for the competition and millions of dollars from foreign fans will help Africa's biggest economy dig out of its first recession in 17 years.
Date created : 2009-06-11