Danny Jordaan at today’s press conference at Soccerex (WFI/M.Bisson)

(WFI) South Africa’s World Cup CEO Danny Jordaan tells INSIDER he sees no clear favourites in the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding race, saying it will go right to the wire.

“I think 2018 and 2022 are going to be difficult [decisions]. It’s too difficult to call,” he told INSIDER at Soccerex in Rio.

Jordaan had earlier told a press conference that advancing the program of stadia and infrastructure improvements was the most important task ahead for Brazil 2014 World Cup organisers, who have been criticised by FIFA in recent months for the slow pace of preparations.

Asked by INSIDER if Brazil’s problems might prompt FIFA to go for less risky hosts in 2018 and 2022, and whether Qatar in particular represented too big a challenge, he said: “We’ll see what happens. They are all in there and they all have a good chance.”

Ever the diplomat, the man being put forward by the Confederation of African Football for a seat at FIFA’s top table, added: “I don’t know what’s in the mind of the [FIFA Executive] members, we will just have to wait and see.”

Speaking about the challenges for Brazil 2014 at the news conference, Jordaan insisted the tournament’s organisers led by Brazilian football confederation president Ricardo Teixeira would get preparations back on track to deliver a “fantastic World Cup”.

“This is a football country. The challenge for the organising committee is to get the infrastructure in place,” he said.

“Once Brazil is through that, the rest I think will be easy and we will have a wonderful World Cup.”

This week, the International Air Transport Association said that if Brazil doesn’t make progress on upgrades to its airports before the 2014 World Cup, the facilities could be a “national embarrassment”.

“I don’t see much progress and the clock is ticking” said IATA chief Giovanni Bisignani. “We must get all the stakeholders to the table and finalize a plan.”

Brazil’s sports minister Orlando Silva echoed the report’s findings earlier this week, saying the airport modernisation programme needed to be accelerated. “When we think about an event of this size and that Brazil is almost a continent, and that you can only travel around by plane, then we realize that this is the biggest risk for the 2014 World Cup,” he said.

Carlos Alberto Torres, captain of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning team, summed up the problem by relating his experience of his return flight from Qatar to Rio last week, in a panel discussion at Soccerex. After a 14-hour flight from Qatar to Sao Paulo, he said he spent seven hours waiting for a transfer to Rio.

“That can’t happen at the World Cup,” he said. “It is really shameful what is happening with the airports.”

Torres went on: “Our expectations are great. We need to deliver the best World Cup but we have to speed up

Carlos Alberto Torres, Carlos Alberto Parreira and Zico take part in a panel discussion (WFI/M.Bisson)

the preparations because we are a little bit slow.”

Jordaan, who drew on his experiences of preparing South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, commented on the airport concerns at Soccerex, telling reporters: “The airports are very important. They are the engine of the World Cup. The points of entry create the first impression [for visitors].”

FIFA has also voiced concerns over delays in the development of stadia in the 12 World Cup host cities.

Jordaan warned Brazil 2014 organisers that they had to leave plenty of time to properly test the venues, saying three or four football matches were required to iron out problems before the World Cup.

Another recurring topic in discussions at the Soccerex conference was the need to upgrade hotels to prepare for the 500,000 foreign visitors expected for the World Cup.

Ray Whelan, a Rio-based consultant to MATCH Event Services, the ticketing and hospitality company, told delegates: “Hotels will have to do a lot of work to bring up the standards that many international visitors will look for and certainly expect. It is something that has to happen.”

He said the benefit of investment in renovating hotels and building new ones would be felt for many years beyond the end of the tournament.

Rebuilding the Brazilian team for 2014
After Brazil’s disappointing 2010 World Cup quarter-final defeat to the Netherlands, there were plenty of Brazilian experts on hand at the Forte Copacabana venue to offer their opinions on how the national team can succeed in its quest to win the country’s sixth World Cup.

Carlos Alberto Torres was joined by Carlos Alberto Parreira, Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winning coach, and Zico, who played in three World Cups for Brazil, on a panel to discuss the past, present and future of Brazilian football.

“We cannot afford to lose a second World Cup at home [after the 1950 loss to Uruguay],” said Torres. “We need preparations to start now. Everyone needs to believe in this deeply.”

Zico said: “We can’t lose too much time on testing players. Two years from now the basis of our team needs to be ready for the World Cup because we are not going through the qualifiers.”

England 2018 to win FIFA vote?
If a show of hands among international delegates gathered around the Soccerex stand at the closing ceremony is anything to go by, England will be awarded the 2018 World Cup next week. England came out top in a straw poll that asked which of the four European bids deserved to host the tournament. There was only a sprinkling of support for the joint bids from Spain-Portugal and Holland-Belgium, with Russia not receiving any backing at all.

Sugar Loaf party
Delegates were last night treated to a party featuring some of the Brazilian football players from the 1970 World Cup-winning squad on Sugar Loaf mountain. Paulo César, Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho were among the stars present. Less than 600 of the 3,500 delegates attended the lavish bash; many were put off by the exorbitant price of the tickets – 700 reals ($406).

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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