Blatter pays tribute to SA

Friday, June 4, 2010

Pretoria - FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Friday paid tribute to the people of South Africa and the country's government for the interest they have shown in hosting the first ever soccer World Cup to be played on African soil.

He also paid a moving tribute to former President Nelson Mandela for his role in bringing about democracy and stability in South Africa.

"I just want to pay tribute to the government of South Africa because without the government cooperation and support, it would not have been possible to stage this world cup. To the people of South Africa - I would like to thank you all for the passion you have shown for the World Cup," Blatter said during the handover of the World Cup trophy to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Staff at the Union Buildings abandoned their offices as they scrambled to catch a glimpse of the trophy. They were not disappointed though as Blatter was more than willing to give everyone a chance to get as close as possible to the golden cup but he had one request: "Don't touch it, it's very special".

It is FIFA protocol that a Head of State receives the trophy before the start of the World Cup and Motlanthe, in his capacity as Acting President, accepted the cup on behalf of government.

Motlanthe said government had worked hard to ensure that it fulfilled all the guarantees required by FIFA to host a successful World Cup. He attributed the success of South Africa's bid to host the tournament to the "incredible" work done by Mandela, former President Thabo Mbeki and later President Zuma.

"It is the work of these amazing people that we are today able to say we can host this magnificent event and we would like to thank all of them," said Motlanthe.

Blatter reiterated South Africa's readiness to host the world's biggest soccer showpiece saying the country has proved its critics wrong. "This is not a perfect world, not everything will always be 100 percent right but I think all those who have been criticizing have a little bit of jealousy," he said.

On the reports that Mandela would be attending the opening ceremony next Friday, Blatter confirmed that he had met with the 91-year old statesman and has indicated his willingness to attend. "I had a privilege to meet with Nelson Mandela yesterday, this great personality, and I am convinced that he wants to be there," Blatter said.

Meanwhile, the trophy is expected to end its touring journey in Soweto where residents from South Africa's biggest township will have one last chance to see it.