Organisers of the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa axed Port Elizabeth Tuesday from the list of venues which will stage next year's Confederations Cup after delays to stadium construction.
The decision was made after a report compiled by a technical team which said the stadium, one of 10 which are due to stage matches in the 2010 tournament, would likely miss a deadline in March next year for health and safety tests.
“We acknowledge the progress that has been made on the Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth stadium in recent months,” Irvin Khoza, chairman of the local organising committee, told reporters.
“With the complex nature of the construction and erection of the roof of the stadium, however, it was decided that it would be too high a risk to keep the stadium in the FIFA Confederations Cup schedule.”
The Confederations Cup has traditionally been used to test a host country's state of preparedness for the World Cup and the decision is likely to fuel claims that South Africa is struggling to meet its deadlines.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter raised eyebrows last month when he admitted he has a Plan B should South Africa be unable to host the 2010 World Cup, although he stressed it would only become active in the event of a natural disaster.
Khoza said that the Port Elizabeth stadium was still expected to be one of the 10 venues which will stage World Cup matches despite Tuesday's decision.
“The stadium has been one of the star performers of the FIFA World Cup construction process and again, we reiterate that the stadium will be a wonderful venue in 2010,” he said.
Khoza said that all the four other stadia were on schedule and would be ready for the tournament.
FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke said it would have been “crazy” to have given the go-ahead to Port Elizabeth given the recommendations of the technical team which said it was unlikely to ready until May, only weeks before the kick-off of the Confederations Cup.
“It was very important for the stadium to be ready because we have to go in and prepare the stadium,” he told reporters, adding that a decision on a possible replacement would be made a later stage.
“Potentially we will have a fifth venue.”
South Africa is building five new stadia while another five are being upgraded for the first ever World Cup to be staged in Africa.
The arena in Port Elizabeth was the only new stadium to have been earmarked to stage Confederations Cup matches.
Despite the setback for Port Elizabeth, Valcke insisted that FIFA was happy with the overall state of preparations and saw no reason why the tournament would not be a resounding success.
“We are happy with the progress made by South Africa so far,” he said.
“We are confident that South Africa will be ready to host a hugely successful event in 2010.”
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