South Africa bid relies on carnival of colour

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The Independent Football

The parties were still going on, in the Absa Stadium and the surrounding Durban suburbs, long after England's footballers had taken to the air on Thursday night. South Africans of every hue were celebrating the start of what they desperately hope will be a successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup.

The memory of the failure to win the bitterly contested vote to stage the 2006 finals remains fresh here but the mood is now forward-looking. The decision of the sport's world governing body, Fifa, to guarantee an African host has narrowed the field considerably and given South Africa real hope that this time they will succeed. This year's cricket World Cup, like that of rugby in 1995, was successfully staged but football remains the sport of the South African masses and the World Cup is most fervently desired.

"Football can bring our people together and strengthen our democracy," Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the 2010 bid company, said. "Black and white left the stadium celebrating the best of what South Africa has to offer."

While Fifa is as susceptible as the International Olympic Committee to such uplifting sentiments, Jordaan and his colleagues are now aware they also have to prove they can deliver hard currency. With Fifa suffering financial problems, and television executives no longer so enamoured with the beautiful game, this applies more than ever and the South African bid emphasises the backing of business and government. The aim, said Jordaan, is to demonstrate a South African World Cup will not only "be a sporting success but [also] a profitable business venture."

But while the new office blocks along the Dolphin coast north of Durban are testament to South Africa's economic development, the omnipresent notices promising an armed response at every home confirms many desperate people continue to be left behind.

Crime is a big weakness for South Africa, with one respected observer noting that winning the bid was the easy part, the hard bit could be holding on to the finals. There would be plenty of European nations willing and able to step in at short notice should Fifa get scared. Then there is the Zimbabwe factor. Conditions there are very different. The economy is far more rural, the workforce less educated and the infrastructure weaker, but these distinctions may be lost on Fifa executive committee members living thousands of miles away.

As a consequence of these local issues, and the global situation, security was tight at England's match on Thursday but not oppressively so. The mood was welcoming, the tone being set by the pre-match festivities. After the players had warmed up in between native and western dancers, balloons and musicians, a string of dignitaries, including Noel White, chairman of the FA's International Committee, signed the "World Cup 2010 Bid Charter". This promised to prove South Africa could deliver "a Fifa World Cup of style, efficiency and uninhibited joy".

The farce surrounding the selection of the home team, and some organisational niggles, brought the middle pledge into question but there was no question about the latter claim. With the president, Thabo Mbeki, looking on, a 60,000 crowd waved the new nation's rainbow flag, sung anthems, blew horns and roared their delight.

South Africa's commitment extends to evicting the host rugby clubs from such venues as the Absa in order to prepare better pitches than the one England endured. The final is scheduled for Soweto's FNB Stadium which will then have a capacity of 120,000. The semi-finals will be at Ellis Park, Johannesburg's 70,000-seat rugby stadium and the Absa, which will be raised to a 75,000 capacity. Other venues include Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Rustenberg.

Five other nations are bidding to host Africa's first World Cup: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Nigeria. Of these the South Africans most fear Morocco who will making their fourth bid. The recent terrorist bomb in Casablanca will not help their cause nor, for English representatives, the chaos which surrounded England's friendlies there in 1998 - for which Glenn Hoddle and the players commuted from Spain.

Tunisia will have a chance to showcase their capabilities when they host the 2004 African Nations' Cup in January and could split the Arab-African vote along with Egypt. Libya are not seen as serious contenders, their bid is regarded more as a step in their attempt to return to the world community. Nigeria represent the only other bid from sub-Saharan Africa and have a impressive football pedigree but face difficulties persuading the world they can overcome severe crime, internal security and infrastructure difficulties.

The contenders have to submit their bids by 30 September and will then host inspections by Fifa's six-man technical committee. These will be evaluated in March before a final decision is made by Fifa's 24-man Executive Committee at the Fifa Congress in Paris in May 2004. South Africa hope the heartbreak they suffered in Zurich three years ago will then be swept away by a successful vote.