South Africa President Jacob Zuma has welcomed the world's premier soccer players and fans to his country for the FIFA 2010 World Cup due to kick off on Friday.
With a scarf in the national colors draped over his shoulders, Mr. Zuma said South Africans have rolled out the red carpet for players and visitors alike.
"It is my great honor to welcome the teams, soccer fans, tourists and the entire football fraternity to our beautiful country South Africa," Mr. Zuma said. "We are truly pleased and humbled to host the world in our country for this historical and extraordinary event."
Mr. Zuma said that sports-mad South Africans have long held the game of soccer dear to their hearts and are thrilled to host what many view as the world's premier sporting event in their country. He said it has been a long political, social and economic road to be able to do so and South Africans owe a great deal to elder-statesman Nelson Mandela for making it all possible.
"At this point it is proper for me to acknowledge and thank our founding President and icon Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, for his visionary leadership and statesmanship," Mr. Zuma said. "It is through his tireless efforts to achieve reconciliation and to build a thriving rainbow nation that the world bestowed South Africa with this honor of hosting the games. He also worked hard personally, to bring us to this glorious moment."
In the past week the ruling African National Congress has said Mr. Mandela planned to attend the opening of the tournament this Friday, but his grandson said he was too frail to do so. Mr. Zuma says the final decision about whether or not he will attend, will be made by Mr. Mandela.
Mr. Zuma said hosting the World Cup has brought infrastructure developments that will benefit the country for years to come. But he said, he hopes that through an education initiative known as 1Goal Education as many as 72-million African children will receive basic education.
"If implemented successfully, this project will enable 72-million African children who do not attend primary school currently to do so," Mr. Zuma said. "It will be one of the most lasting legacies of the 2010 World Cup and we urge all nations of the world and the private sector internationally to support this campaign."
Mr. Zuma thanked FIFA president Sepp Blatter for believing in South African in the face of a great deal of global skepticism that the country was capable of staging such a major international event. Blatter said at the end of it, the success of the tournament will be a South African achievement.
"But it is the African World Cup and all the work to organize this competition has been made in this country," Blatter said. "And when at the end of the day, compliments shall be given, it shall be given to South Africa and to the African continent."
On Thursday, a large concert showcasing local and international stars will be held at Orlando stadium in Soweto, with the opening match scheduled for Friday afternoon at Soccer City, also in Soweto.