The organizers of the 2010 World Cup have decided to get serious.
No, they haven't decided to cancel the stadium construction projects and siphon the money into feeding the hungry or building hospitals or providing electricity or roads or fresh water or any similarly useful project. That would be too much to hope for.
Indeed, rather than curtail the vast sums of money being dumped into FIFA's extravaganza, COSTS ARE SPIRALING OUT OF CONTROL due to strikes, electricity shortages, redesigns and the like. Short term, loans will provide the money. In the long run, local governments will have to pay the money back using cash they really can't spare in a country with 40% unemployment and an AIDS epidemic.
(Another reason for the cost overruns is that these projects were never bid out, so they're not dealing with quoted projects, a method which every corrupt politician in the US looks upon with envy.)
Rather, the sure sign that they're making real progress is that FIFA is requesting proposals for THE OFFICIAL MASCOT of the 2010 World Cup.
So many cynical suggestions, so little time. I'm just not going there.
The mascot hunt was announced on the eve of Sepp Blatters OFFICIAL INSPECTION TOUR which will commence on Saturday, in the company of various soccer dignitaries including marvelously named Local Organising Committee Board member Tokyo Sexwale.
Sir Ian Fleming would be proud.
There's no question, of course, that Sepp will report that he found preparations "completely satisfactory" and that he has "no doubt whatsoever" that SA 2010 will go on as scheduled.
Then again, if he shows up and finds a couple hundred construction workers sitting around big empty holes in the ground passing around joints and bottles of wine while their equipment slowly rusts he'll say the same thing, so the only sure thing is that this trip will tell us exactly nothing.
Blatter is unlikely to say much about why many of the professional, non-political local managers ARE JUMPING SHIP as crunch time approaches, although that would certainly be something everyone would like to hear.
He's also unlikely to acknowledge FIFA's increasing nervousness over SA's looming political crisis OR DISCUSS THE FINDINGS OF THE SECRET INVESTIGATION he sent there recently to report on how close things are to a boiling point.
And of course reporters, cautioned by the credential revocations of journalists who persist in asking Blatter questions that he doesn't want to answer, are unlikely to ask about the secretly leaked FIFA report saying "There is concern over the security situation in the SADC region because of the political situation in Zimbabwe and questions are being asked on whether this presents a conducive environment for hosting the tournament"
They may, however, ask him about published reports that JAPAN HAS BEEN APPROACHED by FIFA functionaries inquiring about the possibility of a last minute tournament relocation, but the response will be the now-standard "fire, tsunami, earthquake" meme that he has adoted in response to all such inquiries.
Sepp will however make sure that everyone understands that his PET SOUTH AFRICAN STOOGES are to be given well-paying WC jobs, regardless of how useless or corrupt they are.
And of course there will be much said about the AFRICAN LEGACY PROJECT which will be rolled out for the United Nations in a couple of weeks whereby the issues of overpopulation, poverty and rampant disease will take a back seat to '"furthering the legacy of African football".
A legacy which Blatter, typically, will suggest that someone else pay for.
We all hope that, come the summer of 2010, the biggest controversy we're dealing with is WHETHER OR NOT TO BAN THOSE INFERNAL VUVUZELA'S but there are a whole bunch of hurdles to clear between now and then and, sadly, Blatter's little traveling circus this weekend isn't likely to shed much light on any of them.