Don't Worry About a Thing

All of you who have been a little concerned about the possibility that the South Africa World Cup in 2010 might be in jeopardy can now breath a sigh of relief.

Forget the stadiums, the transportation facilities, the lack of hotel space, the security situation, the frightening shortage of electricity and/or the now-blossoming political crisis. Those are mere distractions.

The real proof that South Africa 2010 will go on as scheduled is the unveiling of the mascot, henceforth to be known as Zakumi, which is reportedly a Zulu term roughly translated as "What do you mean there's no water at the hotel?"

This will probably not come as a great relief to FIFA Grand Poohbah Sepp Blatter, whose recent whirlwind tour of South Africa, which seemed to be all champagne and roses, has in retrospect begun to look less like a victory lap and more like an exercise in political strongarming.

Of course the ostensible purpose of his visit was to "check on the progress of stadium construction" but let's be honest here: Blatter is a 72 year old Swiss lawyer whose knowledge of civil engineering is about on a par with your Grandmother's.

Now it's true that all FIFA Executives love these "stadium inspection" trips - Blazer and Warner are both big fans - because of the all-inclusive luxury travel, meal and accommodations policy as well as the standard $500 a day FIFA stipend any time you're not at home.

Hell, if I had their limitless expense accounts, I'd never go home either.

But the bottom line is that FIFA's technical people already know, down to the last brick, where construction progress stands. FIFA is a multi-billion dollar business, and the WC generates 80% of their operating budget. If you believe that they sit around in Zurich with their fingers crossed hoping for the best, you need to think again.

Sepp standing around in a hard hat staring at a pile of girders with a bunch of similarly attired and equally clueless local politicians is entirely for show.

His real purpose was to deal with the political issues.

He met with F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, the two previous heads of state. He met with about-to-be-axed (excuse me - "recalled") President Thabo Mbeki. He met with soon-to-be-installed President Jacob Zuma.

(Which was particularly interesting, considering that the ANC hadn't yet decided to replace Mbeki)

If Pik Botha was still around somewhere, Sepp would probably have had a sit down with him as well. However, there's likely no truth to the rumor that he tried to get a medium to put him in touch with Shaka.

Nonetheless, the fall - sorry, the "recall" - of the Mbeki government over the weekend, which Blatter was intimately informed about - if not at least tangentially involved in - has precipitated ANOTHER MASS EXODUS OF THE TECHNICAL PEOPLE who have been running the WC2010 effort, including the guy in charge of finance and the "techincal chairman" who was running both stadium and transportation construction.

Fifa's director of communications and public affairs, Hans Klaus, issued a statement saying "This is something we are watching very closely."

No kidding. He then added this:

"If new people come in we think they will soon become familiar with their roles."

Well that's certainly a comfort.