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By ESPN Staff

South Africa's parliament passes World Cup legislation

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- South Africa's parliament approved legislation Tuesday for the 2010 World Cup, with lawmakers showing rare unanimity that South Africa will be ready to host soccer's biggest event.

Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile dismissed criticism that construction of stadiums is behind schedule and the country's transportation network won't cope with the influx of visitors. Stofile also sought to ease fears about the cost.

"The World Cup offers us an opportunity to present ourselves to the world for what we really can be," he said. "It presents an opportunity that no money can buy."

The government has earmarked about $700 million for building and renovating 10 stadiums, and another $1.2 billion for upgrades to airports, roads and railway lines.

Some 350,000 foreigners are expected to come for the monthlong tournament. Organizers predict the World Cup should create 129,000 jobs in an economy battered by high unemployment, and lead to an additional $1 billion in tax revenues.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Special Measures Bill deals with the legal detail of the tournament. Similar legislation was passed in Germany and other recent World Cup hosts.

It relaxes the usually stringent provisions on visas and work permits for FIFA associates and commercial partners. It suspends restrictions on liquor sales while increasing protection against ambush marketing.

"To support this bill is a legacy in its own right," Stofile said. "Let us all be part of that legacy."

During the debate even lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Alliance, who usually oppose the ruling African National Congress as a matter of principle, took the floor to voice their support.

South Africa will be the first African nation to host the World Cup. President Thabo Mbeki says the event will celebrate Africa's renaissance. But already there are doubts whether the country, which is still struggling to throw off the legacy of apartheid, will be ready.

Stofile said preparations for the World Cup would provide a much-needed opportunity for South Africa to improve its road, housing, electricity and telecommunications infrastructure and "push the economy to a higher notch."

"We believe that hosting the World Cup offers us the biggest opportunity to banish Afro-pessimism," Stofile said.