Obama may attend 2010 opening


The spectacular Soccer City stadium, scene
of the opening of the 2010 Fifa World Cup,
is shaped like a calabash.
(Image: Soccer City)

President Barack Obama, pictured with his
daughters and the family pet, is likely to
attend the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
(Image: The White House)

Fifa president Sepp Blatter talks to the
press in Johannesburg. (Image: Fifa)

Janine Erasmus

US president Barack Obama is expected to be among the dignitaries at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The world’s most powerful leader received an invitation from Fifa to the grand event, the first to be hosted by a country from the African Confederation of Football, and Fifa president Sepp Blatter is convinced that Obama will attend.

“The president of the United States has been invited … he has accepted our invitation,” said Blatter, speaking at a press conference in Johannesburg during the Confederations Cup.

Blatter added that as a head of state, Obama’s schedule was no doubt extremely busy, but would hopefully allow him to be present at the grand opening of the greatest sporting event ever held on African soil.

The US president is of African descent – his late father was born in Kenya – but has yet to make a visit to the continent in his official capacity.

Obama is said to be a keen sports fan and spent much of his youth in Indonesia playing street football.

The New York Times, with the permission of the White House, recently printed part of a letter from the president to Blatter, in which he expresses his hopes that the 2018 or 2022 World Cup would be held in the US.

Obama stands behind football as a tool for uniting people. “Soccer is truly the world’s sport, and the World Cup promotes camaraderie and friendly competition across the globe,” he said in his letter.

The president added that any bid by the US would be about more than just the game itself, but would be the country’s invitation to the world.

Although the White House has not yet issued official confirmation of Obama’s 2010 attendance, presidential spokesman and former goalkeeper Robert Gibbs gave his assurance, in a statement, “that a small group of us have assembled in order to move the president in that direction”.

The utmost confidence in Africa

The World Cup kicks off at Johannesburg’s brand new 100 000-seater Soccer City stadium, one of eight existing stadiums around South Africa to receive a multi-million-dollar upgrade.

Either the South African national team Bafana Bafana or current world champions Italy would thrill the crowds in the opening game.

Right from the start Blatter and football’s world governing body have expressed their utmost confidence in South Africa’s ability to stage such a huge sporting event.

The Confederations Cup, although only halfway through, was already deemed a “major success”, and with the hosts through to the semi-finals there was no doubt that the country would throw its weight behind Bafana Bafana as never before.

“I have been at Fifa for 34 years now,” said Blatter, “and in that time African countries have always bid to host the World Cup: Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt and then South Africa. But they lost every time. Something had to be done and that was why we introduced the rotation system. Without it Africa would never have hosted the World Cup.”

With Fifa’s economic and broadcast partners also rightly showing their confidence in the success of the event, said Blatter, the time has come for Africa to receive its reward for what it has given to the Beautiful Game. The continent has produced some of football’s greatest stars, and Blatter emphasised that he felt it was a moral obligation on Fifa’s part to give the World Cup to Africa.

Blatter also reassured the millions of anxious South African fans that under no circumstances would the vuvuzela be banned from any World Cup stadium. The noisy air horn has blasted itself onto the blacklists of many overseas visitors, but as it is the instrument with which South Africans express their joy, said Blatter, it is here to stay.

“Vuvuzelas make the South Africa game come alive,” he enthused.

In spite of Blatter’s assurance, the future of the vuvuzela at the World Cup remains uncertain, but Fifa is expected to make a final decision by the end of June.

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