Mark Fish was part of the Bafana Bafana team that won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations on home soil in 1996. He played a total of 62 international matches for South Africa and was part of the squad that played at the FIFA World Cup™ at France 98. He has played for Jomo Cosmos and was in the Orlando Pirates team that won the CAF Champions League in 1995. He has also played for Lazio in Serie A and for Charlton Athletic, Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich Town in England.
FIFA.com: What does it mean to you that South Africa will host the first-ever FIFA World Cup on African soil?
Mark Fish: As a footballer and as a South African I think it's remarkable that I'm able to experience it in my lifetime. It's unfortunate that I retired a little too early because I would have loved to play in it, but I'm very honoured and very fortunate that I'm able to experience it in my own country.
Do you recall the emotions you felt on 15 May 2004, when the famous envelope was opened by the FIFA President and the name 'South Africa' emerged?
Yes, definitely. Even now I'm feeling goosebumps because I remember the exact day. We were going to play against Middlesbrough in the last game of the season for Charlton. Watching it on television, and when the envelope was opened I was ecstatic and had people calling non-stop. I ran out onto the pitch after the game that afternoon with the words "we are going to host the 2010 World Cup" on my shirt, and I'm really looking forward to that first whistle being blown come 2010.
What does it mean to you to serve as an ambassador for the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
As I said it's unfortunate that I cannot take part in it as a footballer but now I can promote football in South Africa, promote football in Africa and promote the World Cup. We're doing as much as we possibly can off the field so that when the world comes to South Africa in 2010 - we'll be ready to welcome the world.
Your role as a 2010 ambassador allows you to interact with the general public and extensively with the football fraternity. What is the anticipation among South Africans for the looming FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup and how has the experience been so far?
The public has always wanted to know more about the stadia and how far we are with them. As an ambassador I'm in a position to give them the information they require. Everyone is very excited, and it's when you attend events like the Confederations Cup event hosted by a small school like St. Theresa Convent School that you realise that the nation are behind the LOC and we are all looking forward to the first whistle blown come 2010.
As one of the most capped players in the history of your national team how important is it for South Africa to perform well as Host Nation of both the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
Obviously the Confederations Cup is important as South Africa will get the chance to play against world-class players, the likes of the Italians, the Egyptians, United States, Brazil, and the European champions as well. It's very important to gauge how the players respond to playing against these players.
For the World Cup it's very important because, not only from the playing point of view, but for the country it's important to show that we can host a Confederations Cup leading up to being able to host a successful World Cup. The Confederations Cup is very important because it's the best teams from their continents that are coming out to play in South Africa. It's a big tournament, we are going to see some of the best players in the world and we must get behind it.
In your view, how will African football be perceived by the rest of the world after the successful hosting of the FIFA World Cup?
It's important for us as South Africa and as an African country to make sure that we host a successful World Cup on and off the field, from a playing point of view to show that we are justified to have six African countries in the World Cup, which will be a first.
Off the field, after we've hosted a successful World Cup, hopefully it will give another African country a chance, after three or four World Cup tournaments to host the World Cup again. So on and off the field it's very important for Africa and I'm sure that we will be able to represent Africa from a playing point of view very well and from a tournament hosting point of view as well.
African football has been on the rise in general and African players are performing at their peak in the world's top leagues. Could we see the first African World Champion in 2010?
Definitely. Of the last two or three tournaments, we've been saying that African teams can do very well, as Ghana and the Ivorians have shown. I think though that the weather could be a factor because the tournament will be played during the South African winter. South Africans will be behind Bafana, but will be behind any African team as well. I do think an African team can win the World Cup and fans do make a big difference. We've got the best players playing in the best teams in Europe so why can't these players do as well for their countries, as they do for their clubs week in and week out? So let's hope it's Bafana, but if not let's hope it's an African team.
What kind of message would you like to send to the rest of the world regarding South Africa's readiness to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
People coming to South Africa will be coming here to not only enjoy the World Cup from a football point of view, but also to enjoy South Africa because if it's the most beautiful country in the world. We've got the most beautiful people, the most welcoming people and some of the most beautiful landscapes you can see in the world. And we as South Africans are inviting the rest of the world to come to South Africa with open arms and come and experience an African and South African World Cup with us.
What are you hopes for the continent beyond the tournaments?
It's important that we host a successful World Cup because then another African country can host it as well. But everything concerning the World Cup has to start at home first, so I'm hoping to see every South African having a home and clean water long after the World Cup has gone, and that the World Cup will be a catalyst to help develop Africa as a whole.