FIFA gives SA seal of approval

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DURBAN, March 2 – FIFA on Tuesday brushed aside lingering doubts about South Africa's readiness for the World Cup, as cities across the nation staged street parties to launch the 100-day countdown.FIFA president Sepp Blatter insisted the nation was ready, and said he was bothered by naysayers who worry South Africa won’t pull off the June 11 to July 11 tournament.

"It’s not so much that there’s pessimism, but that it’s always being thrown into doubt. It’s bad, because when there’s doubt, there’s no confidence. For me and FIFA, that bothers us sometimes," Blatter told a news conference in Durban’s new stadium.

"There is no doubt, no doubt," he said. "Let’s go now, let’s have this World Cup, and then we will discuss end of July."

He spoke after a tour of South Africa’s 10 stadiums that will host the month-long tournament. Construction is complete at all the stadiums, and only two have yet to host games to try out the new facilities.

"As South Africans we have encountered a lot of skepticism but today, as we celebrate this milestone, we can confidently say to the World that we will be ready," said Danny Jordaan, head of the local organising committee.

The 100-day countdown dominated South African media Tuesday, but only a few hundred revellers joined the celebrations that were mostly held in downtown districts, far from the townships where most football fans live.

Ella Matlhare, a 65-year-old from Sebokeng township 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of Johannesburg, said she took two mini-buses on a two-hour journey to join about 300 people at a street party in the posh Sandton business district.

"I was supposed to be doing my washing, but I will do it some other time. My mind is on soccer," she said. "I am so excited, everyone has been talking about the World Cup, now it is here. There is no turning back."

In Cape Town, a helicopter carrying the South African flag flew past the landmark Table Mountain, while schoolchildren prepared for lessons in the "diski" — a dance inspired by football movements.

In Durban, about 1,000 people blew vuvuzela trumpets — mandatory accessories for South African fans — and danced to drumbeats outside City Hall.

Amid the cheering, some fans said they were disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to attend World Cup matches, even with heavily discounted tickets for locals.

"It’s a dream come true for South Africa, but I can’t afford a ticket," said Pretty Soni, an mother of two who like millions of South Africans has no job in a country where unemployment is officially at 24.3 percent but believed much higher.

South Africa has poured 33 billion rand (3.9 billion dollars, 3.2 billion euros) into preparations for the tournament.

In addition to the stadiums, major upgrades to airports in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Bloemfontein are complete, while Durban’s new airport is set to open on May 1.

FIFA says that 2.2 of the 2.9 million tickets have already been sold, even though fewer foreign fans are expected to attend.

South Africa is banking on 450,000 foreign visitors, though the actual number could be lower, with many fans overseas still recovering from the shock of the global recession.

The country is seizing the publicity around the 100-day to try to reassure foreigners about visiting South Africa, which has one of the highest crime rates in the world, averaging 50 murders each day.

South Africa has spent more than 2.4 billion rand on security, recruiting 41,000 additional police and buying hi-tech equipment for the competition.

Overall, South Africans are increasingly optimistic about the World Cup. A survey out on Monday found that 85 percent believe the nation will ready for the games.

The public was less rosy about the hot-and-cold fortunes of Bafana Bafana – only 55 percent said they thought the national team was ready to compete.

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