Blatter continues to back South Africa in World Cup race

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FIFA president Sepp Blatter still supports South Africa over England in the race to stage the 2006 World Cup.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter still supports South Africa over England in the race to stage the 2006 World Cup.

Blatter pledged his backing for the South Africans when he took office last year and he claimed today that was still his position.

However he stopped short of publicly reaffirming his support for South Africa because the selection process has begun.

"I have said that, but I will not repeat it now because I always said that once the official bidding process started in August, when the five candidates presented their documents, that I should deserve neutrality - but I have not changed my view," he said.

Blatter was speaking in Tokyo after the meeting of FIFA's 24-member executive committee, who will decide on July 5/6 in Zurich, which of the five bids from England, South Africa, Germany, Morocco and Brazil wins.

The executive committee has decided how the winning candidate will be chosen and it will use majority voting with a secret ballot.

FIFA feels that the winner must receive the support of at least 13 members, which is what England's campaign team had advocated.

Alec McGivan, director of England's 2006 bid, felt such a formula was necessary to give the winning bid credibility.

McGivan believed the winner could have been undermined if they had come through with only a handful of votes in a straightforward vote.

Sepp Blatter explained that after the first ballot the country with the lowest number of votes would be discarded.

If two or more of the bids poll the same lowest number of votes, a second ballot will be taken to decide which one drops out.

This process will continue until one country gained a majority.

Blatter will have the casting vote if the final two countries poll 12 votes each.

South Africa have been buoyed by Blatter's support and today they dismissed security fears over staging the finals there.

Danny Jordan, chief executive of the campaign team, is growing weary of questions about the safety of visitors given the country's high crime rate.

He issued a personal pledge that Africa's streets would be safe by 2006.

"As far as events in our country are concerned, we can give a guarantee that all of these events will go off without any incident," he said.

"The first event after the 1994 election was the rugby World Cup, which passed off safely, when the country was probably more unsafe than it is now.

"By 2006 we will have solved all of these problems."

Jordan's message was driven home by South Africa's ambassador to Japan Dr Krish Mackerdhuj, who as former president of the United Cricket Board helped bring the 2003 cricket World Cup to the country.

He claimed cricket had no problem with South Africa's security, so why should football be any different?

"We have concerns, yes, security and crime may be a concern, but what is important is what we are doing about it," he said.

"The total Government is behind trying to eradicate that concern."