LONDON - The World Cup will do even more to forge a united South Africa than Nelson Mandela's success in pulling a divided country together through the 1995 world rugby tournament, the chief organiser said on Thursday.
Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the local organising committee, also said FIFA would introduce special charter flights and direct ticket sales in response to African anger at the difficulty of attending the continent's first football World Cup.
"It is always important to further strengthen social cohesion in our country, to strengthen nation building, and I think that in this regard the impact is going to be massive, much more than the 1995 (rugby) World Cup," he said.
The story of how South Africa's victory in that tournament calmed white fears, averting possible civil war a year after the end of apartheid, is shown in Clint Eastwood's film "Invictus."
Jordaan told a news conference the football spectacular was much bigger, with 32 instead of 16 teams and six African sides instead of one, plus huge interest in South America and Asia.
Despite joy across the continent that Africa is staging its first World Cup, there is anger that high prices and complex ticketing have made attending the event impossible for many Africans. Ticket sales are very low elsewhere in Africa.
Jordaan said FIFA, football's world governing body, would respond to this by organising over-the-counter direct ticket sales and charter flights in the five other African countries that have qualified for the finals.
Fans in South Africa and other countries have complained that the normal system of buying tickets over the Internet is unsuitable for Africa where supporters have little access to computers and are not used to booking in advance.
Asked if FIFA's reaction was too late and mistakes had been made, Jordaan said: "It is something that certainly must be taken on board for Brazil". Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup.
He said the new system had been discussed last year and could be implemented quickly.
Many fans wanting to travel to South Africa from Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon - three of the qualifiers - would currently have to fly via Europe on scheduled flights.
In a news conference at Wembley stadium on Thursday, President Jacob Zuma said foreign visitors should not be deterred by fears about security in South Africa which has one of the world's highest rates of violent crime.
"We're ready to protect those who come. If there are people who are sceptical or feeling concerned, they must know they can come to South Africa safely," he said.
Zuma and Jordaan said they were confident in World Cup security measures, which will include mobilising 41,000 police to protect visitors, but the country would remain vigilant.
Jordaan expressed concern about high prices for hotels and internal flights which have deterred even some European fans from attending the tournament.
He said he was looking forward to the results, expected by the end of March, of government inquiries into high hotel prices and possible price-fixing by domestic airlines.
"We want to see fans coming back and increasing tourism into South Africa...this is a huge opportunity but we must not lose our reputation as a value for money destination," he said.
Asked about his remaining worries before the tournament starts on June 11, Jordaan cited the completion of areas around stadiums and access roads, which in some places still look like construction sites.
Attacking negative reporting, especially in Britain, where media have suggested South Africa could never host a successful World Cup, Jordaan said the event would generate $3.5 billion, the highest revenue in FIFA's history, compared to $2.6 billion in Germany four years ago.
But answering questions at the Royal African Society earlier, he did concede concern about the poor performance of the South African team, which was held to a draw by lowly Namibia in a friendly on Wednesday.
"We are very worried... it is very important that the host nation's team must perform. Event success in part is the performance of the local team," Jordaan said.
He added he was praying for two things - that the team would do well and that Mandela, in frail health at the age of 91, would attend the opening match.comments