World Cup another watershed for Africa

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World Cup another watershed for Africa

JOHANNESBURG - FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Monday gave South Africa his highest possible mark for a World Cup that defied skeptics who had predicted disaster. Blatter said he would give the hosts a mark of nine out of 10, which he said was the highest possible score, because “Perfection does not exist in our life.”

Last year, when FIFA still had concerns over South Africa’s organizational capabilities for the vast logistical operation, Blatter gave a mark of 7.5, saying it was not meeting expectations.

“Africa has proven that really they can organize this World Cup,” Blatter said. “They can be proud.”

He also said that the tournament had changed perceptions of the continent, after years of negative reporting had predicted chaos and major criminal incidents in a country notorious for violence.

South Africa’s 40 billion rand ($5.29 billion) worth of spending on the World Cup, however, which ended with Spain’s victory over the Netherlands on Sunday, would bring increased tourism, trade and investment, President Jacob Zuma said on Monday.

He said it would create the revenue to address myriad social problems, including widespread poverty and an HIV pandemic, which critics said should have taken priority over the World Cup.

Blatter, like other senior international soccer officials at the news conference, paid tribute to the way South Africans had continued to attend matches despite being the first host nation to be knocked out of the group stage.

More than 3.1 million people attended the 64 games, the third-highest figure behind the United States in 1994 and Germany in 2006. Some six million people watched the games in public viewing areas around the world.

FIFA said the average television audience in Spain for the final match was a record 15.6 million, or nearly 80 percent of the market, while in the Netherlands it was more than 90 percent. Spain won the trophy for the first time after beating the Dutch on a late goal.

Irvin Khoza, chairman of the local organizing committee, said the World Cup had brought together an often troubled nation. “Never in our history have we seen South Africans so united,” he said.

Danny Jordaan, the chief local architect of the World Cup, compared it to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, and the first democratic elections in 1994.

He said the tournament “was an incredible moment” and a dream come true for the host nation. “We are very, very happy and very proud to be Africans and South Africans,” he added.

Mandela, in frail health at the age of 91, helped conclude the successful tournament by touring the pitch in a golf cart just before Sunday’s final. Mandela’s charisma is widely credited with helping South Africa win the World Cup bid in its second try in 2006. Jordaan said Mandela was the biggest personality of the tournament.

He added, slightly tongue in cheek, that the other two winners were the vuvuzela trumpet hated by millions of television viewers for its raucous drone but now popular with fans around the world, and Paul the oracle octopus in Germany, which correctly picked the winners in eight out of eight matches.

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