One of South Africa’s struggle stalwarts who fought for the emancipation of South Africans during the era of apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been honoured with the prestigious FIFA Presidential Award at the 2010 FIFA World Player of the Year Gala.

Tutu, a Nobel Prize winner, is mentioned in the same breath with some of South Africa’s most important leaders, and his contribution to the fight against apartheid brought him international acclaim. He continued to play a meaningful role in South Africa in the post-apartheid democratic country, and during South Africa’s bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, Tutu was part of the South African delegation in Zurich. His picture with fellow Nobel Prize Laureate, Nelson Mandela holding the FIFA World Cup trophy became iconic, and Tutu went on to become one of the most passionate supporters of his country as they hosted a successful 2010 FIFA World Cup – the first one on the African continent.

“The FIFA World Cup was a great achievement not only for South Africa but for the whole African continent because this was the first time that this great show had been hosted on African soil,” Tutu said, commenting on the resounding success of the tournament. “We knew that winning the World Cup bid was not about football, but also an opportunity for the African continent to claim its place on the world stage. When we started on this road, we were subjected to so much doubt and scepticism and a lot of people said Africans will not be ready, but we proved them wrong. This proves that we Africans are capable of delivering these big events.”

The Nobel Prize winner is no stranger to the international community.  When South Africa started the painful yet necessary road of reconciliation post-apartheid, Mandela asked Tutu to facilitate a process that would open the wounds of the past yet also precipitate the healing process.

The result was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which laid bare some of apartheid's worst crimes and provided answers for those who had lost their loved ones. In the first days, an overwhelmed Tutu wept uncontrollably – maybe the truth was too much even for a man who had seen some of the worst atrocities. Tutu had been one of the most vocal opponents of the apartheid system when most of the struggle leaders were either in exile, jailed or murdered, and he became a champion of human rights.

And so the arrival of the FIFA World Cup was the culmination of much work for Tutu, and he enjoyed the spectacle of togetherness. “For us, football is an opportunity to change lives and also an opportunity for Africans to defeat poverty and other human challenges facing the continent. In South Africa, we witnessed the power of sport to unite people and bring people together. As many know, we have had a system in our country that prejudiced people based on the colour of their skin, but during the World Cup, I saw both black and white hugging each other, waving one flag. It was emotional for me,” Tutu said.  

Last year, the Presidential Award was awarded to Queen Rania of Jordan for the commitment she showed to the 1GOAL: Education for All initiative.