NEW YORK – The top South African World Cup organizer says his country is prepared to have President Barack Obama visit during the tournament.
Obama met last summer at the White House with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and South African officials have said Obama has told them he might try to attend if his schedule allows.
"I think it would be wonderful it he comes," Danny Jordaan, the South African organizing committee's chief executive officer, said Wednesday during an interview with The Associated Press. "We expect a high number of heads of states during the World Cup."
A little more than six weeks before the June 11 opener, Jordaan gave an update on the tournament at the South African consulate.
"I think we're going to get many high-profile individuals," he said. "The government will take the necessary security precautions."
Blatter and Jordaan hope former South African president Nelson Mandela also can attend. The Nobel Prize winner makes few public appearances these days.
"Of course Mandela is 91 years old," Jordaan said. "It's something that we have to wait and see."
Jordaan said it was hard to evaluate a purported threat by al-Qaida directed at the high-profile U.S.-England match on June 12. Jordaan said the "authenticity of that thing" has not been determined.
FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said in February that South Africa would fail to draw the 450,000 international visitors it once projected for the tournament, and South African Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said this month the figure could be as low as 300,000.
Jordaan said he projected 373,000 international visitors, of which 100,000 will come from neighboring African countries. There are still 120,000 to 140,000 unsold tickets. Part of the difficulty has been caused by the global recession.
"That crisis affected many of the countries in Europe, including England and Germany, which happen to be the major markets," he said. "And even now you see the crisis in Greece. And people in 2010 who may have had the capacity to travel in 2004 and '05 may now not have that capacity."
Still, the U.S. leads foreign countries with 160,000 tickets bought, despite high prices for airfare and hotels.
"It seems the recovery has been good in the States," he said. "And certainly fans follow teams that they believe in. And we've seen after the United States made it to the final of the Confederations Cup and was leading Brazil 2-0 at halftime, that fans in the U.S. decided this is a team that has a chance in this World Cup. And I think as the teams progress into the second round and latter stages, there will be a further influx of fans into the country."
Jordaan estimates the tournament will leave a legacy of $80 million to $100 million for South African soccer, which often has struggled for funding in competition with rugby and cricket.
He hopes the World Cup will leave a lasting boost on tourism. South Africa had just over 10 million international visitors last year and hopes to increase the figure to 15 million annually by 2014.
Already, he said up to 30 new hotels are being built and that 557 new buses have been delivered along with 124 new train sets. South Africa wants to be discussed as a travel destination "in the coffee tables and dinner tables of the world," and the estimated 15,000 reporters attending the tournament will generate discussion about the country's progress away from the 10 stadiums.
Already a global forum of business leaders has been scheduled for Cape Town during the tournament.
"That's one of the fundamental reasons as to why we pursued the idea of hosting the World Cup," Jordaan said. "It's about further investment in the country, growth in trade and economic opportunities. And the way in which you do that is by demonstrating that you have the infrastructure and the capability to warrant serious consideration for such investment. And the second thing is about your reputation. It's the country's ability to deliver on what it promises."
South Africa may try to follow the World Cup by bringing the Olympics to Africa for the first time in 2020. Jordaan has said he could envision Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban as host.
"If you can host the World Cup and if we have the infrastructure, what about the Olympics? I think that's the obvious question that's going to be raised," he said. "It's the last of the mega-events outstanding for the continent."
AP Sports Writers Barry Wilner and Eric Nunez contributed.