Mbeki pressured to act fast on Zimbabwe to save 2010 World Cup
By Tichaona Sibanda
12 April 2007
President Thabo Mbeki is under pressure from South Africa’s 2010 World Cup organising committee to find a lasting solution to the Zimbabwe crisis, or risk seeing his country lose the right to host the biggest football tournament.
Already a number of European countries have raised their concerns at sending their teams to a country whose neighbour is involved in gross human rights abuses. Amid the spiralling brutality, violence, rapes and destruction of property belonging to the opposition, there are reports that the Southern African Development Community are also pushing Mbeki to force Robert Mugabe to stop his ‘dirty war’ on innocent Zimbabweans. Sources on Thursday said Mbeki is expected to travel soon to Harare for talks with Mugabe and opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara.
Reports from Johannesburg said there have been a flurry of discussions over the phone between other SADC leaders and Mbeki, urging him to act fast on Zimbabwe to ensure the whole region benefits from South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup. This follows a statement Thursday by the chief executive of the 2010 organising committee that South Africa is seeking a change in World Cup rules to allow visiting teams to be based in neighbouring countries during the finals in three years’ time.
Danny Jordaan, the head of the organising committee, said other African countries in the SADC region should be involved as much as possible in the continent’s first World Cup. Under existing rules the 31 visiting teams can set up training camps outside the host country before the finals. But they have to move to South Africa at least seven days before their opening match and remain there during the tournament.
Dingilizwe Ntuli, a Zimbabwean journalist based in Johannesburg, said organisers in South Africa have asked Fifa to consider allowing teams to stay at bases in neighbouring countries and travel to South Africa on the day before their matches and return to their bases soon after.
Most capital cities in the SADC bloc are within a 90-minute plane journey of the match venues in South Africa. And Ntuli believes Zimbabwe could gain more than any other country in the region. This grand plan however is guaranteed to go up in flames if the current political situation in Zimbabwe is not curtailed. There are fears if Mugabe rigs the elections, as he has done before, the crisis in the country could escalate into open war between Mugabe and hard done Zimbabweans.
‘I won’t be surprised to see Mbeki pressuring Mugabe to mend his ways or going further by dropping his quiet diplomacy for a more robust and aggressive style of mediation. This tournament is too big to be disrupted by events in Zimbabwe and I am sure behind the scenes every effort is being made to resolve the crisis,’ Ntuli said.
With over half a million visitors expected during the tournament South African organisers have been trying to find out if other SADC nations can help out with accommodation. But the sticking point in all discussions has been Zimbabwe.