JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter called Nelson Mandela “the most charismatic humanist alive” when Soccer City, venue for the World Cup’s opening match, was officially handed over to soccer’s ruling body on Wednesday.
Blatter, speaking to reporters, also described the 90,000 capacity stadium as a magnificent flagship for Africa.
The Swiss though reserved his most effusive praise for the 91-year-old Mandela, the former South Africa president and the man who guided the country out of the dark years of apartheid into multi-racial democracy in 1994.
“The right legacy for this event will be ‘let’s celebrate Africa’s humanity’,” Blatter said.
“Let’s celebrate the most charismatic humanist alive -- Nelson Mandela. We do hope Nelson Mandela will be here at the beginning of the World Cup in this stadium. This will be the highlight.”
The stadium, which will host eight matches including the final on July 11, was handed over to FIFA for the duration of the tournament by Gauteng province Premier Nomvula Mokonyane and the executive mayor of Johannesburg Amos Masondo.
Blatter and officials then visited the adjacent International Broadcasting Centre for an opening ceremony of the building that will be at the heart of the global communications network for the World Cup.
“This (stadium) is not only a flagship for South Africa but it is a flagship for Africa -- and the world,” said the FIFA chief.
“There is no comparison with any other stadium built this year. I have to say it’s a five-star stadium and can be compared, if comparison is possible, perhaps with Wembley Stadium in London.”
The World Cup begins on June 11 when hosts South Africa play Mexico in a Group A match. Mandela is expected to be among the VIPs at the match although ill health could prevent him from attending.
Writing by Mike Collett in London, editing by Tony Jimenez. To query or comment on this story email email@example.com