FIFA President Sepp Blatter Tuesday paid tribute to former South African President Nelson Mandela during a private audience with him in Johannesburg.
To commemorate the historic moment on 15 May 2004 when Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, emotionally raised the iconic trophy right after the 2010 FIFA World Cup was awarded to South Africa, Blatter handed over a specifically manufactured replica of the FIFA World Cup Trophy.
“You are the true architect of this FIFA World Cup; your presence and commitment made it happen. Now the first African FIFA World Cup is a reality and the Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 – the dress rehearsal – will take place in less than 10 months from now,” explained Blatter while handing over the trophy to Mandela.
“I remember that moment back in Zurich. It’s an honour to welcome you here today. It was my desire to meet you and I am happy that we managed it. Thank you for this very special gift,” said Mandela, who assigned the trophy a special place in his office.
The FIFA President was accompanied on the private visit by FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke and FIFA Ambassador Tokyo Sexwale, who is also a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
The FIFA President spoke to Mandela about his itinerary since arriving in South Africa on Sunday and told him how confident he was that the 2010 FIFA World Cup would be a magnificent event.
In particular, the FIFA President talked about his visit that same morning to the iconic Soccer City stadium, where he was welcomed by enthusiastic construction workers who regaled him with a stirring rendition of “Shosholoza” – a popular local tune which has become South African workers’ theme song whenever the FIFA President visits FIFA World Cup stadium sites in the country.
“This is the centre of all the activities of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and I am so impressed by the magnitude of the construction of this stadium, which already has more than 20,000 seats in place.
“It’s great, it’s big, it’s huge. It is like a temple where people will assemble in 2010,” said Blatter.
Mandela was also keen to hear President Blatter’s assessment of the current performance of South Africa’s football team while the pair also fondly recalled the glorious South African team that won the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations on home soil.
“Now the team must start concentrating on its preparations for next year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, when they will compete against top teams such as reigning world champions Italy, as well as Brazil, US and European champions Spain.
“South Africa has the talent but it is now time to show it,” explained Blatter. Mandela then told the guests about his football experiences as a schoolboy and stressed that football was a people’s sport.
Summing up his short visit, the FIFA President said: “Meeting my dear friend Madiba has been the highlight of my stay here in South Africa. I feel at home in this beautiful and proud country.
“God bless you and I hope to see you at the opening match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup at the Soccer City stadium on 11 June 2010.” Panapress.