South African sport superstars Makhaya Ntini and John Smit are relishing the opportunity to share the stage with other celebrities at the Final Draw, which will be broadcasted to an estimated audience of 200 million. The duo, who are among the most popular sportsmen in the country, will be among the assistants helping FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke at the Convention Centre.
Ntini, a cricket sensation in South Africa and, Smit, the man who has led the South African rugby team to new heights, yesterday both expressed excitement at being included in a show that will mark a significant chapter in their country’s history.
“What can I say? This is such a privilege for me, to be part of this historical moment in my country,” Ntini said. Smit, on the other hand, said he was looking forward to the show, although he admitted to be “slightly nervous”. “To be asked to be play a role in this historical World Cup is an honour for me, even though one would say its not a huge role. To be honest, I’m a bit nervous, because of the magnitude of the event."
Ntini knows all about representing your country in a World Cup on home soil when he played in the cricket World Cup in 2003 where South Africa, unfortunately, were knocked out in the early stages despite entering the tournament as favourites. Playing at home, he argues, is added pressure that can be perilous if not handled correctly.
“I can’t explain in words the pressure one feels, it’s just too much. In our case, we were listed amongst the favourites in the tournament, but unfortunately, we didn’t do as well. But to play in a major competition, more especially the World Cup in your own country is massive, it’s a special honour. Ntini grew up in the impoverished province of the Eastern Cape. He admits that his childhood dream was to play for one of the top football teams in the world and to represent his country’s football national team. He never got to achieved neither of the two, but he went one step further when he became the first ever black player to play for the South African cricket team and has then represented his country over a decade – playing in two cricket world Cups.
Voted the most popular sportsman in the country for two consecutive years, Ntini is the epitome of the rags to riches story who used sport to craft his way from poverty to top international stardom. Ntini’s love for football is well documented. He is a diehard supporter of one of the local South African clubs, Kaizer Chiefs.
Smit had led South Africa to that majestic walk at Stade de France two years ago when the South African rugby side claimed the Web Ellis rugby trophy for the second time. “These are exciting times for our country, people in this country are mad about sport and I believe that during the World Cup, people from outside will be surprised by what they will see. As a country, we continue to surprise the world in what we can do and achieve, we always rise against the odds and this is one of those moments,” Smit continues.
Smit, however, drew parralles between the FIFA World Cup next year and the 1995 rugby World Cup which was hosted and won by South Africa just one year after democracy. “That moment (the 1995 triumph) was a significant one in our history. It played a vital role in mobilising and uniting our country, it was a special moment I understand that the football World Cup is much bigger,,” the Springboks captain said.