Fifa has reacted robustly to what it perceives as a sustained negative attitude to this summer's World Cup finals in South Africa, pointing the finger at England and Germany, "two big voices in the football family", as the main culprits.
The world governing body yesterday announced what it maintains are healthy ticket sales, with two-thirds of the three million assigned ahead of the 11 June kick-off, although national associations, notably the Germans, have returned large numbers.
"It's sad that every morning you wake up and there are articles saying that people should not fly to South Africa," said Jerome Valcke, Fifa's general secretary, "that this is a dangerous country, that there is no way this person should fly to South Africa because it is a crazy country, that Fifa and [the Fifa president, Sepp] Blatter made the wrong decision to host the World Cup in South Africa.
"What we are asking is for fair treatment for South Africa, the same treatment that all the other World Cup countries got. Don't kill the World Cup before it has even happened."
Reports in England and Germany have irritated Fifa in particular. "These are the two countries," said Valcke. "They are very big voices in the football family and that's why any time they are talking about the World Cup football, it's immediately in the headlines. I even said to Danny [Jordaan, the head of the local organising committee] that we should even ask [the South African President Jacob] Zuma to give a call to his colleagues Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown, call them and say, 'Hey, tell your country South Africa is a country and it's not the end of the world'."
Take-up of tickets allocated to competing nations for their games has been poor compared to previous finals – as well as Germany, the Dutch and England, traditionally two of the better supported sides, have returned batches.
Valcke acknowledged that there are areas of financial concern for supporters, notably over flights. "There are some issues with flying. It's very difficult to find a seat from Europe to South Africa for the World Cup," he said. "The price of tickets is also extremely high."
Jordaan added a forthright defence of his country's preparations. "First they said, 'The stadiums will never be ready' – that was your perception. The reality is that all the stadiums are done," he said. "Then they said, 'You're going to run out of money before everything is done' – it has not happened. That was the perception and it was wrong. Then they said, 'No one is going to buy the tickets' – now we saying we sold over two million and there are just 900,000 left. So we are happy."Reuse content