George Weah, the only African to win soccer's world player of the year award, said South Africa's ability to stage a successful World Cup in 2010 will have repercussions for the rest of the continent.
The success of the World Cup is the success of the continent, Weah, who was part of South Africa's successful bid team in 2004, said in an interview in Johannesburg this week. It's a new beginning for the continent of Africa.
Around $50 billion has been plowed into infrastructure projects across South Africa to ensure the country is ready for the kick off of the world's most popular event in June 2010. As well as five new stadiums, the country's government has committed to building new airports, rail links and hotel accommodation. It will be the first time the competition has been staged on African soil since the tournament started in 1930.
Delays in building work, rising costs and concerns about whether the country can cope with an influx of an estimated 450,000 overseas visitors for the month-long tournament have dominated global coverage of the build up. Weah said hes confident things will work out.
There's a lot of skepticism because a new continent has come on board, said Weah, who is the leader of an opposition political party in his native Liberia. But South Africa have the facilities, capacity and strength to show the world Africa can organize the World Cup too.
South Africa beat bids from Egypt and Morocco to become a World Cup host. A successful competition may lead to more bids from African nations, Weah said.
They are going to watch it and be enthused, he said. The tournament can't return to the continent until 2022 at the earliest. Brazil hosts the quadrennial event in 2014 and the soccer's governing body FIFA said the competition must be played outside South America and Africa in 2018.
Africa's best players regularly appear for Europe's top teams: Ghana's Michael Essien and Nigerian John Obi Mikel play at Champions League runner-up Chelsea; Essien's compatriot Sulley Muntari plays at Inter Milan in Italy and Cameroons Samuel Eto leads the Spanish league in scoring. Still, no African team has gotten beyond the quarterfinal stages of the 32-team tournament. Many see 2010 as the opportunity for the emergence of the continents first world champion.
Preparations have frequently been hampered by internal disputes and poor planning. At the 2006 World Cup in Germany the Togo team threatened to strike over bonus payments.
It will not be an easy task, Weah said.