Saturday, July 03, 2010

President Zuma Hails 2010 World Cup

Zuma hails 2010 World Cup

From Robson Sharuko in JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA’S President Jacob Zuma has hailed the way the 2010 World Cup has shattered the racial barriers, which used to divide his people, helped turn the Rainbow Nation into a united country proud to be represented by the same flag and given Africans a reason to be proud of their identity.

Africa’s biggest economy has struggled to bury the scars of a past blighted by the cruelty of the apartheid system, which split its people into two different classes of black and white and, 16 years after independence, South Africa is still reeling from the effects of that racial divide.

The majority of its black people have remained enmeshed in poverty, leading to social problems like the explosion of xenophobic attacks on foreigners and unrest in the townships, while its minority white population lives in marked wealth and controls the economy.

The divisions have been apparent in sport with the blacks mainly devoted to football and the whites being associated with cricket and rugby and there are areas at the Loftus Verseveld Stadium in Pretoria, the home of the Bulls, which are virtually no-go areas for the blacks when the Super 14 champions are playing at home.

But the South Africans, to their credit, have showed remarkable unity during this World Cup and Zuma believes hosting the tournament has taught his country how to look beyond their racial differences and understand that they all belong to the Rainbow Nation.

In his analysis of the impact of the tournament, as South Africa prepares for the final week of the 2010 World Cup show, Zuma talked exclusively to the Fifa media channel — the representative medium of all journalists accredited to cover this tournament — and revealed his excitement at the way football has changed attitudes.

"It is for the first time in South Africa that we have seen this Rainbow Nation really coming together in a manner we have not witnessed before," said Zuma.

"For the first time, I have noticed that every South African is now flying our national flag. Everybody is just crazy about this tournament, both black and white. This tournament proved that sport is a tool for nation building."

South Africa hosted and won the 1995 World Rugby Cup, with former president Nelson Mandela playing a big part in uniting his black counterparts to embrace the Springboks — the national rugby team that used to be taken as the ultimate sporting symbol of the apartheid regime.

While the events at the 1995 Rugby World Cup helped bring the South Africans together, it is clear that the 2010 World Cup has gone a step further despite the early elimination of Bafana Bafana.

South Africa was one of the four African nations to attend the Fifa congress in 1953 but the country soon fell into problems with the world football governing body over its apartheid policies and in September 1961, the South African Football Association was suspended from Fifa.

Following the Soweto uprising in 1976, South Africa was then formally expelled from Fifa only to be re-admitted, on July 1 1992, as the country began to pull down the barriers of apartheid and take the route to democracy.

On Thursday South Africa celebrated the 18th anniversary of its re-admittance into the Fifa family.

Football was one of the tools used by the world to fight apartheid and Zuma said he never imagined, as the black leaders of the South African struggle languished at Robben Island prison, that this country would ever host a tournament of this magnitude.

"I don’t think any of us imagined that. As you might recall, at that time, we were campaigning for the isolation of apartheid South Africa," said Zuma.

"And when Fifa took a decision to ban South Africa, it was a significant step. We only dreamt that one day, a free and equal South Africa would participate at international competitions.

" We never thought that South Africa, so early on, would host a World Cup. In any case, when I was in Robben Island I never thought I would be president. It is indeed a humbling experience if you take that into account."

The South African President said it was also important that South Africa should make a success story of their hosting of this World Cup show and said it was a measure of the powerful spirit of his people that things have gone well so far.

"I think it was very important for us to succeed. But you must remember that, as South Africans, we pride ourselves on the fact that we always rise up to any challenge," he said.

"As a matter of fact, nobody believed that we would have a smooth transition from apartheid and we did it. As you know, a Fifa World Cup has never been hosted in Africa. When South Africa first declared its intentions to host the World Cup, some people said ‘what is this country from Africa thinking?’.

"Yes, we lost the first time (to Germany), but we knew that we would do it next time. That is what defines us as a country — our attitude and the belief that nothing is impossible. We knew we deserved it, but some continued to say, ‘impossible, they won’t be able to organise it’ and they talked about a ‘Plan B’.

"When we completed the stadiums, people started to talk about security and other issues, but we have had a great tournament. And today, a lot of people who are honest enough have come out and said ‘we confess, we were wrong about your country’."

The World Cup has certainly gone well, beyond the expectations of many people, and Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke has been so impressed with the show that he revealed South Africa will always be used, given its success, as the standby nation for future World Cups in the event that the intended host comes short. Zuma has not only been impressed by the way that the tournament has been hosted well but, crucially, by the way it has brought smiles on the faces of his people.

"I think the tournament is going extremely well and we are very happy, South Africans are happy. You just have to see the reaction of the people at all the matches," he said. "I must also say that the international community is very happy about this tournament. I had an opportunity to be in Toronto at the G8 meeting and the excitement I saw from other heads of state was unbelievable. You could have seen the emotions.

"This has been, undoubtedly a very successful tournament. I think we have proved that not only South Africa, but Africa is capable of hosting any major event. This has proved to the world that we are capable of hosting any international event, we have the resources and infrastructure. People are already talking about a possibility of bidding for major events and we are supporting this. The Olympics are an example, I don’t see why we can’t bid to host the Olympics in the future. It’s important for Africa."

Zuma also revealed that his government has picked up many lessons during the tournament.

"There are many. Firstly, we learned a lot about how to work with strict timelines. We have embarked on a lot of development and we had to work within a tight schedule in order to deliver on time," he said.

"I have watched many games, I think this Fifa World Cup has been different. Football has been so unpredictable, we no longer have smaller countries now in football. Some of the countries who were favourites are now out of the tournament and we see that gap between the so-called big teams and other teams narrowing.

"Of course, there are countries that have played well. Even though Bafana Bafana did not qualify, I think we played good football and I was happy. We were so close to qualifying.

"I was impressed with teams like Netherlands

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