JOHANNESBURG, Dec 13 (Reuters) - South Africa on Wednesday dismissed concerns it had fallen behind in 2010 World Cup preparations, saying it had made headway in modernising stadiums and making the streets safe for visitors.
'The preparation work has begun,' Deputy Minister of Finance Jabu Moleketi said at a news conference in the capital Pretoria. 'Our eyes are on the ball and we are going to deliver ... we are confident we are on time.'
Moleketi said the companies that would carry out the majority of the World Cup-related work would be announced before the end of the year and that major construction work on stadiums would begin throughout the country next February.
He added that 8.4 billion rand ($1.20 billion) has been earmarked for construction and renovation of stadiums and nearly 6.0 billion rand on additional infrastructure projects for the tournament.
Moleketi's rosy forecast came as South Africa continues to reassure world soccer's governing body FIFA that it is on schedule to harness the resources and spirit needed to host the first World Cup held in Africa.
South African police added on Wednesday they planned to have 192,000 officers on the nation's streets by 2009 and that 30,000 of those would be assigned exclusively to protect athletes, soccer fans and other tourists during the World Cup.
'The name of the game is blanket security,' Andre Pruis, deputy national commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS), said at the news conference in Pretoria.
Jitters in the world soccer community about South Africa's successful 2010 bid have been fueled by the country's creaky infrastructure, including its decrepit transportation system, as well as a high level of violent crime.
Concerns intensified last month when local organizers of the tournament failed to show up at a news conference to discuss their readiness, stoking another round of rumours that FIFA might consider moving the tournament to Australia.
Top FIFA officials have repeatedly denied that any plan exists to shift the tournament away from South Africa, which has one of the world's highest rates of murder and rape.
The challenge facing the country's police forces was highlighted earlier this month by the rape of a French woman on the beachfront in Durban, a popular resort city and one of the host venues for the finals.
The incident received local and international coverage, prompting renewed doubts about South Africa's ability to ensure the safety of the tens of thousands of World Cup visitors.
Last month the new U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Eric Bost said few would want to come to the country for the finals if crime continued at current levels.