Daya: You are only as old as you feel

17 Jul 2020
  • South Africa 2010's oldest volunteer celebrates his 90th birthday

  • Similarities with Nelson Mandela

  • His "golden year” in 2010

Nelson Mandela is unquestionably the most famous South African of all time, so it comes as no surprise to learn that the country, which straddles the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, has named Nelson Mandela Bay in his honour.

That makes Amrit Daya all the prouder, as he hails from that very city and shares a birthday with the former statesman, although he was born 12 years later in 1930. Today, on 18 July 2020, Daya celebrates his 90th birthday.

Ten years ago the likeable pensioner became the oldest FIFA World Cup™ volunteer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, one of approximately 68,000 people from 170 countries who applied to help out at the world finals.

“Volunteers are an important part of the World Cup,” Daya told FIFA.com. “They’re often the first people fans and players see, and they help out everywhere. Whether it’s at the airport, in the city or at the stadiums, there are volunteers on site everywhere. It was wonderful to be part of something on such a scale.

79-year-old Amrit Daya is the oldest volunteer applicant for the 2010 FIFA World Cup

“I’m in good shape and am mentally fit,” he continued. “I’m not allowed to drive anymore, but that’s not a problem. I just walk more.”

He fondly remembers back to summer 2010 and the World Cup in his homeland. “The day the envelope was opened and South Africa was announced as the host nation, we all jumped out of our seats with excitement,” recalled Daya.

“That moment was the beginning of a real rejuvenation of the souls of the South African people. It was clear to me that it would help shine a new light on Africa and get the people the recognition they deserve.”

Daya requested to be involved in welcoming and providing information to visitors, a wish that was granted. As team leader at the Mandela Bay airport, he greeted new arrivals in his hometown. “I had a wonderful time,” he said.

“2010 was a golden year for me anyway because I turned 80 on Madiba Day and on 9 April I celebrated my 60th wedding anniversary. On top of that, my son turned 50. One of my best World Cup memories was when one of the dignitaries said at the airport that it was the best World Cup they’d ever been to.”

Countless media outlets from across the globe reported on Daya and made him into something of a minor celebrity.

90th birthday celebrations

"We wanted to have a big party, but that’s not possible unfortunately due to COVID-19. Instead we’ll have a video call with the whole family.

"Most of them live in Johannesburg: I’ve got two children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. I think they’re more excited about it than I am and they want to open my presents for me on the call. They’ve already told me they’ve got a lot of surprises planned. I’m very grateful that I’m still in such good shape at my age.”

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Since retiring in 1993, Daya has undertaken a great deal of social work and also represented the faith-based committee of the Nelson Mandela Bay council for Hinduism. "I’ve worked in villages and helped people in the worst conditions," he said.

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Football and sport remain a part of his life to this day. Be it tennis, table tennis or football, Daya tries to offer help and support wherever he can in his native city. “You’re only as old as you feel,” he said.

And whenever time allows, he also enjoys watching Europe’s top leagues on television: “The Premier League or La Liga, they play great football there. My favourite club is Manchester United and my favourite player can only be Lionel Messi. The way he plays, he’s a magician.”

Wishes for the future?

“Above all, health. I’m also writing a book about my experiences. I’d like to finish it.”