FIFA's Blatter Hails South Africa's Iconic Stadia

Johannesburg - FIFA president Sepp Blatter says South Africa should be proud of producing world class soccer stadia for the 2010 World Cup, adding that the facilities will ensure a lasting legacy for the country long after the final whistle is blown.

He was speaking at a plaque unveiling ceremony and the official opening of the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) at Soccer City Stadium.

"This is a world class stadium, it's a five star facility that can be compared to the best in the world," said Blatter, who was also joined by the Mayor of Johannesburg Amos Masondo, for the unveiling of the stadium's plaque.

At least eight games, including the opening and final matches, will be played at Soccer City Stadium. Blatter said eight days before kick-off, there was no doubt that visitors will enjoy the stadium which he described as a flagship not only for South Africa but for Africa as a whole.

"The right legacy for us would be to celebrate Africa's humanity through football for hope and there is no other way to do it than here in Johannesburg Soccer City.

"It is indeed a great day for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, it's a great day for all of us," Blatter said.

The plaque is a symbol to commemorate everyone who has made it possible for South Africa to stage the first ever African World Cup. The names of soccer bosses Danny Jordaan, Irvin Khoza, Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Issa Hayatou and Blatter appear on the plaque.

Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile said he had no doubt that the World Cup, which kicks-off next week Friday, will be like anything that the world has experienced before. "It is going to be an African World Cup and it's going to be good, it's going to be a unique experience for the world," said Stofile.

He recalled how those involved in the organisation of the tournament had worked hard day and night since 2004 to ensure that government met all the 17 guarantees it had signed with FIFA. The guarantees included the provision of world class infrastructure like Soccer City, adequate transport and hospitality.

Blatter referred to the IBC, one of only five he had opened across the world, as another example that FIFA had not made a mistake when it awarded South Africa the rights to host the world's biggest sporting event six years ago.

"Television is a major part of FIFA, there is a love story between the two because it is through television that the world gets to celebrate the world cup, it creates emotions and memories," he said.

The FIFA World Cup is the most watched sporting event on TV. FIFA recorded a staggering 26.29 billion global cumulative audience in the past three world cup events combined. About 24.2 billion was achieved in home-viewing and 2.1 billion watching out of home. In Germany 2006, more than 18 million people enjoyed the World Cup ambience at the official Fan Fest events set up across the country. Organisers expect similar figures to be recorded in South Africa this year and a further recording viewing across the continent.

The 30 000 square meter IBC will accommodate more than 3000 people working at the centre every day from 11 June, making it one of the biggest such centres in the world. It boasts at least 30 interview studios and 50 presentation studios and has come with a price tag of R978 million.

Blatter urged the more than 500 broadcasters who will be using the IBC to "enjoy the experience" of bringing the world cup to the people. Broadcasters will be sending World Cup picutures to about 210 countries. It will also be the first time that the football's showcase event will be broadcast using the next generation 3D technology. At least 25 matches will be broadcast in 3D, starting with the opening game up to the final on 11 July.

"Through you we are able to create this excitement, African excitement, and I would like to thank all of you for that."

The sale of broadcast rights for radio, TV and Internet form the backbone of FIFA's revenue. The body uses the money to stage several FIFA competitions while it also funds numerous projects worldwide.

By Chris Bathembu - BuaNews