South Africa are celebrating the most exciting year in their sporting history with the awarding by FIFA of the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ finals to the country. They will become the first African country to play host to the event, setting off a fever of expectation and a renewed vigour for the game in the country.

It is hard to imagine that it is only 40 years now since the country was effectively thrown out of FIFA for the racist polices of its previous government. The policy of preventing different race groups from playing against each other went in tandem with apartheid rules in a society which was divided along colour lines for generations.

This month marks the suspension of South Africa's whites-only football association from FIFA, a decision taken at its Tokyo Congress in October, 1964. FIFA were among the first international sporting organisations to take action against apartheid in sport policies and insist on the eradication of racist regulations.

In Montreal in 1976, South Africa's suspension was turned into an expulsion and it was only after the dismantling of the country's divisive legislation and the start of negotiations towards a democratic society that the South Africa was restored to FIFA membership in July, 1992.

The dispute over the country's status within FIFA began as far back as 1952 when the affiliation of the whites-only Football Association of South Africa (FASA) was questioned by an inter-racial body of black, coloured (mixed race) and Indian associations, who had formed an alternative body to run soccer in South Africa at the time.

They were called the South African Soccer Federation (SASF) and repeatedly asked FIFA to recognise their existence and to grant them affiliation. At the same time, they consistently requested that FIFA terminate the affiliation of FASA because it practiced racial discrimination.

FASA refused to merge with the SASF, arguing it was against the laws and custom of the country to do so. Instead, they proposed the federation join as an affiliate without any voting rights. FIFA sought to try and engineer some unity in November, 1954 and following the failure of that bid set about the process of forcing South African football to end its racist policies.

In 1955, FIFA decided that the FASA did not constitute a national association in terms of its regulations because it excluded the vast majority of the country's footballers and denied them the right to represent their country. A FIFA commission was sent to investigate in 1956 but the Congress in Portugal that year decided to postpone any decision on the issue until 1958.

At the same time, FASA took part in the formation of the new Confederation of African Football in Lisbon in 1956 but did not play in the first African Nations Cup tournament in Khartoum the following year.

CAF expelled FASA in 1960 and, at the same time, FIFA ordered the South African body to regularise the playing of football in the country along non-racial lines within one year or face the consequences.
The failure to do so, saw FIFA move to suspend South Africa for the first time in 1961 but this was later lifted after FIFA president Sir Stanley Rous visited the country as part of a second investigative commission.

South Africa's white football officials had sought to temper world anger by suggesting a black team represent the country in the qualifiers for the 1966 World Cup finals in England and work began on preparing the side with an English coach. But CAF refused to allow South Africa to take part in the African qualifying zone and instead the country was placed with Australia and the two Koreas.

By 1964, such was the worldwide pressure that the FIFA Congress took the majority decision to suspend the country until non-racial soccer was allowed - a process that ultimately took a decade to achieve, hindered by the apartheid legislation of the country.

When Brazilian Joao Havelange came to power in 1976, it was one of his first mandates to ensure South Africa's expulsion at the Montreal Congress of 1976. Ironically, he was the first major world sports leader to visit the country as apartheid began to fall apart in 1992, travelling to Johannesburg in April.

The release of Nelson Mandela and the initiation of talks towards a new government for the country were enough to see FIFA take the lead in inviting South Africa back into the sporting fold - this time represented by a new and completely non-racial body, the South African Football Association.