Durban: Olympics chief Jacques Rogge gave his stamp of approval to a bid by South Africa for the 2020 Games.
"The country is ready," the International Olympic Committee president told a press conference.
"The 2010 World Cup showed that South Africa was ready to organise the Olympic Games. It's up to them now to decide."
Rogge's comments come just weeks after the South Africa government appeared to close the door on a potential bid by a city like Durban for 2020, preferring instead to invest in basic infrastructure.
"The decision taken by cabinet is final," chief government spokesman Jimmy Manyi insisted on May 26.
The government wanted to improve basic services like water and electricity and rein in rampant joblessness, which have sparked major protests in angry poor communities in recent years.
Rogge however said he had come away from talks with South African President Jacob Zuma during the IOC's congress here this week with a feeling that the Olympics could still be on the agenda.
The Belgian said he had sensed "a strong desire (from South Africa) for a future bid, in 2020 or 2024".
Rogge's assertion is sure to reopen a debate for 2020 with South Africa and other potential bidders having until September 1 to make a decision on whether to take the plunge.
Japan finds itself in the same boat as South Africa in terms of wavering about whether to put Tokyo's hat in the ring for 2020.
Tokyo's problem is the designation of another Asian venue, South Korea's Pyeongchang, as host for the 2018 Winter Olympics by the IOC here on Wednesday.
Commenting on Tokyo's geographical handicap Rogge said that "you have to separate deliberations on the Winter and Summer Games", although not all IOC voters would agree with him.
Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda was keeping his cards close to his chest about Tokyo, thanking the IOC for their support in the wake of the tsunami-quake disaster that struck the country in March.
He said an eventual Olympic Games in Japan "would act as a catalyst to help our people overcome the obstacles they have experienced".
Other potential bidders for 2020 are Istanbul and Madrid, one of the cities which lost out to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Games at the IOC vote in Copenhagen in October 2009.
With less than two months to go before the deadline to lodge a bid the only confirmed candidate for 2020 is Rome.
First Published: Saturday, July 09, 2011, 18:23