17 May 2004
It was twenty-one minutes past noon in Switzerland when the envelope was opened, its contents withdrawn and Fifa President Sepp Blatter’s long-awaited words, barely audible above the noise, were spoken.
At 12:21 on 15 May 2004, history had been made: it was the time of Africa and South Africa to stage the world’s greatest sporting festival.
“I am delighted that an African association has earned the right to host the Fifa World Cup”, said the head of world football’s governing body as the South African bidding delegation embraced before a press conference at the World Trade Center in Zurich.
Meanwhile elated journalists, many sporting workman’s helmets, blew “vuvuzela” plastic horns and sang the traditional African “Shosholoza” anthem in the packed auditorium.
The South African team, including former president Nelson Mandela, bid chairman Irvin Khoza and chief executive Danny Jordaan, were invited onto the stage to answer questions.
With 14 votes to Morocco’s 10 and Egypt’s none, South Africa had been chosen as hosts of the 2010 Fifa World Cup from the first round of voting.
“Each member of the executive committee was called on by the general secretary to cast his vote by secret ballot. Under these conditions, we can only know the choice of each executive committee member by asking them individually”, Blatter said in reply to a journalist’s question before giving the floor to the winning delegation.
“This is for Africa”, said a remarkably controlled Irwin Khoza. “For 44 million South Africans, this is for you. We have the jewel in the crown of sporting events.”
‘I feel like a young man of 15’
Over recent months, Nelson Mandela had campaigned tirelessly to promote his nation’s bid.
Sitting next to Blatter, South Africa’s former president, who spent 27 of his 85 years in prison under the apartheid regime, could not hold back his tears, and they fell freely down his cheeks.
“I feel like a young man of 15”, Mandela said to laughter. But, typically, his first thought was for others – the people of Morocco, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. “You must not be discouraged”, Mandela said. “It is no reflection of your efforts. Next time when you compete, you may be luckier.”
“South Africans should treat this decision with humility and without arrogance because we are, after all, equal”, Mandela said with a booming voice that sent a shiver down the spine, prompting one Egyptian journalist to stand up and say: “We love you Nelson Mandela”.
‘It is wonderful to be an African today’
Speaking through experience, Danny Jordaan, who had been involved in South Africa’s one-vote final-round defeat four years ago, also took time to sympathise with his African “brothers”.
“The World Cup decision is a big victory for one and a massive defeat for others”, he said. “But let us join hands and move forward to deliver an outstanding world cup – so we don’t have to wait 100 more years to stage another one.
“The dream of a nation has come true today”, Jordaan said. “Some South Africans may not have food or a job, but they now have hope. Fifa has said Africa is worthy. It is wonderful to be an African today!”
Speaking later, Jordaan said he believed the World Cup would not only be a success, but help unify a nation.
“We have talked about this moment for four years. The world cup will help unify our people. If there is one thing on this planet that has the power to bind people together, it is football.
“My country is ready to welcome the world”, Jordaan said. “With our colourful dress, songs and dances, I can assure you 2010 will be something the world has never seen before at a World Cup.”