At a gala dinner held on Monday, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter was awarded the Order of the Companions of Oliver Tambo by the South African President, Jacob Zuma. The award is one of the country’s highest distinctions.
Speaking at the dinner, President Zuma thanked Blatter for FIFA’s unstinting work in support of South Africa and expressed his gratitude for its decision to award his country the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ finals.
“After FIFA awarded us the opportunity to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup on 15 May 2004, we embraced the tasks that you entrusted to us, working together as a nation,” said President Zuma. “The hosting of the 2010 World Cup has helped us consolidate the gains we achieved after attaining freedom in 1994.”
The Order of the Companions of Oliver Tambo was instituted on 6 December 2002 and is awarded by the South African President to foreign citizens in recognition of their contributions to peace, cooperation and the active expression of solidarity and support. The ceremony was also attended by the South African Vice-President, Kgalema Motlanthe, the Minister for Sport, Makhenkesi Stofile, and all the members of the FIFA Executive Committee.
“As we celebrate FIFA’s presence here this evening, we recall the time when you supported us in our struggle for freedom,” continued President Zuma. “This was when we rejoiced in FIFA’s decision to impose sanctions against South Africa in 1976 as a necessary action in adding weight to our struggle for freedom. During those difficult years, football helped to keep our hopes alive. Communities celebrated football in their own ways and played tournaments on the dusty streets and forged grounds with makeshift footballs. Football is in our veins, it is in the blood of our people.”
Oliver Tambo was a former president in exile of the African National Congress (ANC) and played a significant role in mobilising international opposition to apartheid, setting up the first liberation movement missions in Egypt, Morocco, Ghana and London.
“I just have to express my thanks but my emotions are now overcoming my voice,” commented Blatter on taking receipt of the award. “I'm touched by this honour. I would like to thank President Zuma and all the people of South Africa for this gesture. I take it for FIFA, the football family and my own family.”