While South Africa, and its many guests from around the world, celebrate the 19th Fifa World Cup, two of the men who made it possible have been largely overlooked. They are two of our former presidents, Thabo Mbeki and Frederik Willem de Klerk.
The former was president when the successful bid was launched, the latter part of the delegation entrusted with bringing the tournament home to Africa.
The rest is history.
This is not meant to be a discussion on the part played by both in bringing apartheid to an end, which made it possible, nor a look at whether the World Cup will unite the country or not.
This is meant to be confirmation that these two individuals played a pivotal part in daring to dream that Africa could host the biggest event on the planet. Not one of the biggest, not the largest sporting event but, by a million miles away and undeniably, the big daddy of all things on planet Earth. To give you an idea, the world television audience for the Olympic Games is about a tenth of that of the World Cup, which comes in at about six times the total world population.
Of course it has hopelessly overrun budget and undoubtedly there is going to be a huge price to pay for hosting this mammoth event. I have no doubt that after the event we will never hear the end of it with much of the criticism valid.
What cannot be denied, however, is that for once Africa is the bride and not the bridesmaid. The spotlight is firmly focused upon us and so far we have not done a bad job of looking after the biggest show on Earth.
Of course there is crime, ask those who attended other World Cups, it draws criminals like a magnet. Worse the tragedy on Table Mountain, the heart attack in Durban and of course Madiba’s loss. These things are unfortunate and happen even when we aren’t hosting the World Cup.
Mysteriously and unless I’m very much mistaken there is no handgun or rifle competition at the WC; that’s at the Olympics. Why then the security guards and bus drivers are frantically competing to see who can blast more of their foot away is beyond me. What they have proved to everyone is that when it matters, theirs is an unreliable industry that needs more government and less self-regulation. You do not protest while thousands of overseas guests are leaving a stadium or abandon them at Soccer City.
Regardless and with fingers tightly crossed the tournament will prove to be a huge success.
This means that there really is nothing beyond the capability of South Africa and nobody will ever be able to take that away from us despite all the problems that will invariably flow from hosting the biggest party around.
Yet when Mbeki and De Klerk and the whole crew started to work on this it must have seemed light years away. Nobody ever gave Africa serious thought. Worse after losing out to Germany many would have said “that’s it”, caved in and abandoned ship, but they stuck to their guns.
And they brought football and humanity home to Africa.
Whatever else you might say in favour of or against these former presidents they brought us something that — hopefully — we will treasure for the rest of our lifetime and others beyond that.
If I haven’t mentioned the rest of the team who achieved this incredible feat it’s because everybody else has and this needed to be said.
Enjoy the tournament gentlemen you played a major role in making it possible.