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Wednesday, 9 June 2010


The road to the first football World Cup in Africa has been long for host South Africa, filled with frustrations and challenges. For the country's 45 million people, it is widely seen as an important step in nation building after years of oppression and inequality, the Voice of America reported. Six years ago, South Africa won its bid to become the first African nation to host a football World Cup, the VOA's Scott Bobb said in his report. "The 2010 World Cup will be organised in South Africa," said the head of football's governing body, FIFA's Sepp Blatter, at the time he made the announcement in Zurich. The country's first post-apartheid president, Nelson Mandela, campaigned hard for the prestigious tournament because he saw it as a way to further reconciliation after decades of racial separation and conflict. The head of the South African Organizing Committee, Danny Jordaan, a former football player and anti-apartheid activist, was there from the start. "After 1990, when Mandela walked out of that prison, we saw it as a beginning of the creation of a new South Africa," Jordaan said. "After the elections of 1994, we then had to deal with building a new democratic, non-sexist South Africa."

Jordaan and other officials met during the 1994 World Cup in the United States and decided to bid on hosting the next available World Cup, in 2006. South Africa lost this first bid to Germany by one vote, but Jordaan says that only strengthened the team's resolve. "It is been a tough journey, first, just to convince people that we should be regarded as serious candidates. It is only after, and ironically, when we lost to Germany 12 to 11 [votes], that the world started sitting back and saying, 'South Africa is a worthy cause,'" Jordaan said. After winning its bid to host the 2010 tournament, the South African government launched a massive effort to build the needed infrastructure. It invested billions of euro in stadiums, transportation hubs, security and communications. But along the way organisers constantly faced those who doubted South Africa's ability to organise the tournament, complete the stadiums and transportation links on time and provide adequate security for thousands of foreign fans. But their confidence never wavered as Blatter remarked during the team draw in Cape Town six months ago. "You are ready. I am ready. Africa is ready. South Africa is ready," Blatter said.

Jordaan says despite the challenges and frustrations the effort has been worth it, given the history of apartheid. "We are a nation that comes from divided past, a past of conflict, almost of war. And so the building of new single non-racial South Africa is a critical part of sustainable economic growth," he states, "Of deepening and strengthening democracy in our country." He says the World Cup, like other major sporting events, has helped foster reconciliation. "This World Cup is beginning to plant the seeds, serving as a glue to bind the nation," he said. "And nation building, social cohesion, is an important outcome for us in this World Cup. And we are quite happy with what we have seen thus far." The World Cup will also leave a legacy of new infrastructure to buoy economic expansion in the future, football clubs in impoverished communities and world-class stadiums across the country. And it leaves a sense of accomplishment among a people who never faltered in their belief that Africa deserved a place on the world stage. Separately, according to a report by the UN News Service, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay said that the football World Cup is a perfect opportunity to highlight the need to tackle racism and intolerance on and off the field.

"Let’s kick discrimination off the field. Let’s tackle exclusion. Let’s put racism offside," Navi Pillay said in an op-ed published in South Africa’s Business Day. Pillay said that the World Cup that kicks off on June 11 2010 is an opportune time to reflect on the fact that sport is meant to foster social cohesion, bring different cultures together in a celebration of healthy competition, and to overcome the diffidence and even contempt that all too often divide countries and communities in the political and social arenas. The choice of South Africa – a country that renounced the institutionalized racism of apartheid – as the host for the event is a perfect opportunity and platform to renew efforts to combat discrimination in all its forms, she said. The High Commissioner, who experienced prejudice and racism first hand as a woman of Indian descent growing up in her native South Africa, was the first non-white woman judge to sit on the country’s High Court. "As a victim of racism and a sports fan, I urge all who play or simply watch sport to use the World Cup as a catalyst to call for global action against intolerance and racism," she said. "These are scourges that affect countless women, men and children around the world and that must be challenged at every turn."

She called for guarding against racism and other manifestations of intolerance that poison sport – particularly football – and that undermine its positive message and bring it into disrepute. This happens all too often, she said, when the supporters of competing teams use slurs and even violence to vilify and attack their opponents. Even the players have at times been prone to such despicable behaviour, she added. "National football authorities everywhere must back their strong rhetoric with serious and consistent disincentives. Manifestations of racism or intolerance in or around the stadiums during the World Cup should be swiftly addressed and the perpetrators isolated. "The clear message of the World Cup must be that there is no place for racism and intolerance in sport," Pillay said. "Ultimately, the real winners of this year’s World Cup will be those who celebrate and uphold in words and in deeds its values of fair play, honest competition, respect and tolerance both on and off the field."