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Mandela - South Africa’s World Cup ‘Architect’

The great man is one of South Africa’s proud sons, and on the 20th anniversary of his release from prison, we pay tribute to his role in securing the first African World Cup.

This week, former South African president Nelson Mandela celebrates 20 years since his release from prison, and with the World Cup tournament beckoning, it is fitting to consider Madiba’s part in bringing the greatest show on earth to the rainbow nation.

On February 2, 1990, South African President F.W. de Klerk lifted the 30-year ban on the African National Congress and black nationalist Nelson Mandela. He was released from prison on February 11 after 27 years behind bars.

A lawyer from the Transkei, Mandela was convicted of treason and sabotage in June 1964 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent the first 18 years of his sentence on Robben Island, off Cape Town, doing hard labor, and later spent time at Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison, closer to the mainland. He refused numerous offers for early release from the government in Pretoria because of the conditions attached. Then the world’s best-known political prisoner, Mandela was 71 when he was released.

Following his release, he negotiated the end of apartheid, took over as South Africa’s first black president after the country held its first all-race election, and began reuniting the people of South Africa under one flag with his incredible wisdom and patience. Not to mention the forgiveness he showed, his willingness to move on and consider his jailers of 27 years as fellow South Africans. He led the country until 1999, and is still seen by most people in the country as the best leader the nation has had the pleasure of following.

Mandela turns 92 on 18 July this year, shortly after the conclusion of the World Cup in South Africa. It will be amazing for Madiba to be able to see the culmination of his life’s work when the showpiece event takes place on African soil for the first time in its 80-year history.

He was fundamental in bringing the World Cup to South Africa for many reasons, not least of which was the fact that his leadership of the government and the fall of apartheid allowed for sanctions against the country to be dropped.

This then gave way for a number of sporting events to take place in the country, with the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and then the African Nations Cup in 1996 creating a positive image of South Africa in the eyes of the world. These sporting events went forward without problems, and it was then that the idea of a football World Cup in South Africa, one of the greatest of all world events, became a possibility.

His efforts allowed for South Africa to become the beautiful place it is today, and his struggle brought attention to the cause of bringing the World Cup to the country.

Mandela has been described as the architect of the 2010 World Cup by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and the head of the football world governing body is correct, because his efforts inspired the idea, and his continual hard work allowed for the bid to be well received by the international community.

"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," explained Blatter on handing over the trophy to Mandela at a press conference.

After losing the 2006 bid to Germany by a few votes a number of years earlier, the South African Organizing Committee, spurred on by Nelson Mandela, came back strongly to take the 2010 honor and begin building towards this year’s World Cup.

Mandela had stated that South Africa had all international standard facilities and could surely host the World Cup, and this assurance from the world’s most famous prisoner was enough to convince the world to give an African country the chance that was necessary, and with one foot in the door the committee did their job well and the rest is history.

Port Elizabeth’s stadium, which will see a number of matches including a semi-final has been named the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, and it is fitting that his name be attached to the world-class venue with all that he has done to bring the Cup to his beloved country.

South Africa can be very proud of their honorary leader and a man who could not be broken by imprisonment or hatred. He is a role model to millions of people and an over achiever who will forever be remembered as South Africa’s greatest son.

Looking back one day, perhaps the World Cup will be seen as one of his greatest legacies, and although he may not have designed any of the stadiums to be used in June/July, he is the true spiritual architect of the World Cup in South Africa.

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