Archbishop Desmond Tutu was honoured this evening at the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala in Zurich with the prestigious FIFA Presidential Award. After receiving the award, the much-beloved Nobel Peace Prize winner took time to speak to FIFA.com, reflecting on the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and the impact it has had on his country.
FIFA.com: Archbishop, you have just received the FIFA Presidential Award. What does this mean to you?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu: I’m staggered. When I was told, I felt deeply humbled and also deeply honoured. To be recognised in this way is very significant. I accept this on behalf of the South African people, who really deserve the applause for having hosted such a fantastic World Cup.
We still remember the pictures of you dancing and laughing at the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony. How much did you enjoy the tournament on a personal level?
I was at the opening game and the final and almost all of us watched the Bafana Bafana games. We were really surprised by how well they did. At one point in the run-up to the competition itself, we had not expected that our team would do so well. We nearly won the opening match against Mexico and scored the very first goal [of the competition] - a beautiful goal! And [goalscorer Siphiwe] Tshabalala is here tonight as a contender for the best goal of the year.
How important was it for South Africa as a nation to host a FIFA World Cup?
You heard people complaining about how much it cost, for example the stadiums that we built. But how much would you pay for the kind of spirit that pervaded our country? It was a fantastic thing. No-one could have predicted that South Africans would feel so good about themselves. It was reminiscent of the time, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison or when we won the Rugby World Cup. You can’t put a monetary value on it. So many South Africans of so many different races walked tall with their heads held high. We were showing off our flags, and we even gave the world the Vuvuzela! (laughs)
There was a lot of scepticism ahead of the tournament, with critics insisting that Africa was not ready to host a FIFA World Cup. Given that backdrop, how proud are you that the tournament was such a resounding success?
We have set a benchmark. It was important for us as South Africans as it did something for our self-esteem. We can all look back and realise what we are capable of achieving. The countries that are about to host the World Cup won’t know yet what will hit them. It’s electrifying!
After Apartheid, and the separating of the country's black and white people, the World Cup saw many happy South Africans, white and black, cheering for their team and waving the same flag. What did those pictures mean to you?
It is important to realise what we achieved in overcoming a vicious system. But we need to be honest and see that there is still a lot to do for us. There is still a great deal of poverty, a high level of crime, unemployment and corruption. And although we have changed, we are still doing badly in regards to HIV and Aids. We have many challenges, but the World Cup has shown us that we can do it. We can overcome all of those difficulties. We can face our challenges and win.
Thousands of visitors visited the country during June and July and billions of people had their eyes on South Africa. Do you feel it has changed perceptions about the country?
Before the World Cup, there were some extraordinary stories being told. People were warned they might face a lion in the streets, and in an English newspaper it was even written that the players should be cautious when opening their locker as there could be a snake in there! People around the world had some quite extraordinary images of South Africa. But they came, they saw, and they were conquered. They discovered that we have trains that do actually keep a schedule, that we have fantastic roads and that we are actually very hospitable people. They enjoyed themselves. It changed the perception that people had of South Africa. The World Cup is more than just a game. This game can revolutionise the world. People can work towards universal education for all. Some of the best players come from poor, underdeveloped countries, where there is tremendous talent. In every country, there are the Peles, the Ronaldos, all of these people, that you still have to discover. It can be an impetus even for the poorest countries to move on.
A great deal has been spoken about the legacy of this FIFA World Cup. What do you expect that will be?
It’s our pride in being South Africans. South Africans can walk tall. They know that they hosted the largest global sporting, and they did it extraordinarily well. The sky is the limit.