Tutu says WCup to outstrip famed rugby win

Tutu says WCup to outstrip famed rugby win

Published Jun. 10, 2010 6:47 p.m. ET

When it comes to sporting events of social and political importance, it is tough to beat the 1995 rugby World Cup.

But Nobel Prize laureate Desmond Tutu is convinced the soccer World Cup beginning Friday will do just that.

``Yes, I believe the World Cup will hold more significance than the rugby World Cup,'' he said in an e-mail exchange with The Associated Press on Thursday. ``The excitement that we experienced in 1995 has more than doubled.''

On the eve of soccer's first World Cup in Africa, the 1984 Nobel Prize winner said the event could be deemed a success before a single ball has been kicked. Already, he said, South Africa has overcome strong initial doubts about whether it could pull off such a massive event.


``Winning the World Cup bid was not about soccer, it was about us winning, it gave us a shot in the arm,'' the archbishop said.

``There was even talk about Plan B and I am proud that we have showed that we can do it.

``It's a victory not only for South Africa, but for Africa as a whole. Infrastructure development in the form of construction of stadia, improved transport system, upgraded road networks and telecommunications has been put in place to ensure a resounding success.''

Tutu said the World Cup was something South Africa needed after a slew of political problems.

``The World Cup has given us a boost,'' Tutu said. ``We have not been feeling this good about ourselves too much. There have been things that didn't make you feel thrilled in the political arena.''

One of the latest issues was African National Congress youth league leader Julius Malema singing old revolutionary songs inciting the killing of whites, with the lyrics ``shoot the boer.'' Some blamed Malema for inspiring the killers of white separatist leader Eugene Terreblanche. Both issues have raised racial tensions that have lingered since the end of apartheid.

``The World Cup might work towards binding people together'' in an atmosphere that has been divisive, Tutu said. ``People justify singing lyrics that are inappropriate now contextually. Struggle songs were relevant during that period but are now out of tune as we have attained democracy and are striving to move on and build bridges.''

Ahead of the World Cup, South Africa has built some of the world's finest stadiums - like Soccer City in Johannesburg and Cape Town's Green Point - which are a far cry from Tutu's childhood memories of soccer.

``As young boys, all we needed were piles of stones on either sides to mark goals posts, a tennis ball, and then we would enjoy a good game of football,'' the 78-year-old archbishop said.

``It was delightful to see people showing off their skills usually before school started.''

Since those days, Tutu has helped spark South Africa's political transformation and won the Nobel for his role as a unifying leader in the anti-apartheid campaign.

It was in 1995, shortly after Nelson Mandela took over as president, that South Africa won rugby's World Cup. Back then, rugby was a sport abhorred by blacks because of exclusionary practices that meant almost all the national team's players were white. But the victory allowed the sport to transcend its historical and political overtones and, for the first time, South Africa shared a communal embrace.

``The 1995 Rugby World Cup saw many blacks celebrating in Soweto. Although many people may not have understood the game, they were happy for the outcome, an illustration sport's extra ordinary capacity to unite people,'' he said.

Tutu expects the same thing to happen if the soccer team does well.

``Bafana Bafana has really surprised even the hardened skeptic by the turnaround performance and readiness for the World Cup and the whole country is behind them,'' Tutu said. ``They are soaking in all the positive energy around them and I am confident that they will give it their best shot.''