FIFA worried credit crunch will affect World Cup

JOHANNESBURG - FIFA on Monday expressed concern that the world economic downturn would impact on the number of visitors to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

Horst Schmidt, FIFA consultant to the next World Cup organisers, said heavy promotion of the tournament was needed in the coming months to persuade fans to travel for the tournament from June 11 to July 11, 2010.

"There is a concern that people will not come in the numbers we expect from aboard," said Schmidt, chief organiser of the 2006 World Cup in Germany and now overseeing the preparations for 2010.

South Africa estimate that 450,000 visitors will travel for the 2010 tournament, although the figure quoted by officials vacillates frequently from a high of 900,000 down to to 300,000.

"It's very important to promote in the next months. Hopefully the football people will still travel. It's important that they join and follow their teams and participate in the event," said Schmidt, who was speaking at the opening of the Soccerex international business convention.

Schmidt's South African counterpart Danny Jordaan said positive results in the opening qualifying matches for European teams like England, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands held out hope of a good numbers of visitors to South Africa in 2010.

"These are teams with huge support base. Even if those fans have fewer pounds or euros in the pocket, they will still benefit from the exchange rate," said Jordaan.

"South Africa has become a cheaper destination. But the real trigger will be if the fans believe their teams are performing well."

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke, speaking at the same ceremony, said if the current economic downturn had happened some 18 months ago, organising the World Cup would have been in serious doubt.

"Luckily most of the work is in place and on its way. But there is still an escalation of costs and it's a difficult time for South Africa. FIFA is making sure we keep down the number of requirements," Valcke said.