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SWC: Red carpet for Obama

2010-04-29 08:20
New York - The top South African Soccer World Cup organiser says his country is prepared to have President Barack Obama visit during the tournament.

Obama met last summer at the White House with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and South African officials have said Obama has told them he might try to attend if his schedule allows.

"It would be wonderful it he comes," Danny Jordaan, the South African organising committee's chief executive officer, said on Wednesday during an interview. "We expect a high number of heads of states during the World Cup."

"We're going to get many high-profile individuals," he said. "The government will take the necessary security precautions."

Blatter and Jordaan hope former South African president Nelson Mandela also can attend. The Nobel Prize winner makes few public appearances these days.

"Of course Mandela is 91 years old," Jordaan said. "It's something that we have to wait and see."

Jordaan said it was hard to evaluate a purported threat by al-Qaida directed at the high-profile USA v England match on June 12. Jordaan said the "authenticity of that thing" has not been determined.

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said in February that South Africa would fail to draw the 450 000 international visitors it once projected for the tournament, and South African Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said this month the figure could be as low as 300 000.

Jordaan projected 373 000 international visitors, of which 100 000 will come from neighboring African countries. There are still 120 000 to 140 000 unsold tickets. Part of the difficulty has been caused by the global recession.

"That crisis affected many of the countries in Europe, including England and Germany, which happen to be the major markets," he said. "And even now you see the crisis in Greece. And people in 2010 who may have had the capacity to travel in 2004 and '05 may now not have that capacity."

Still, the US leads foreign countries with 160 000 tickets bought, despite high prices for airfare and hotels.

"It seems the recovery has been good in the States," he said. "And certainly fans follow teams that they believe in. And we've seen after the United States made it to the final of the Confederations Cup and were leading 2-0 against Brazil at half-time, that fans in the US decided this is a team that has a chance in this World Cup. And as the teams progress into the second round and latter stages, there will be a further influx of fans into the country."

Jordaan hopes the World Cup will leave a lasting boost on tourism. South Africa had just over 10 million international visitors last year and hopes to increase the figure to 15 million annually by 2014.

South Africa may try to follow the World Cup by bringing the Olympics to Africa for the first time in 2020. Jordaan has said he could envision Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban as host.

"If you can host the World Cup and if we have the infrastructure, what about the Olympics? That's the obvious question that's going to be raised," he said. "It's the last of the mega-events outstanding for the continent."

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