We are a people who can deliver

DANNY Jordaan was once an anti-apartheid activist campaigning to keep South Africa out of international sports. Today he is in charge of preparing his country to be the first on the continent to host the premier tournament of the world's most popular sport.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, some 100 days before soccer's World Cup kickoff, Jordaan marvelled at how far he and his nation have journeyed.

"I am a person who could not vote in this country.

"I had no right to represent this country because of the policies of this country," he said.

"South Africa was isolated because of those policies. And now South Africa is a host and inviting the whole world to come here."

Sports, race and politics are intertwined in South Africa, where rugby and cricket are seen as the sports of whites, and soccer is embraced by the black majority.

In the 1970s, Jordaan took part in the campaign for South Africa to be expelled from international sports federations including Fifa, football's worldwide governing body. Many believe the isolation in a sports-mad country helped turn white public opinion against apartheid.

Apartheid ended in 1994, and a year later South Africa celebrated its return to international sports by hosting and winning the rugby World Cup, highlighted in the recent film Invictus.

That tournament is remembered as an important step toward racial reconciliation because of the moment Nelson Mandela walked onto the field wearing the national team's shirt to congratulate the victorious, mostly white South African team.

Jordaan said that once apartheid had ended, he saw hosting an event like soccer's World Cup as a chance to bring the country together in pursuit of a common, ambitious goal.

South Africa narrowly lost a bid to host the 2006 World Cup. It tried again and in 2004 won the right to host the 2010 tournament, with a bid championed by Nelson Mandela.

Thanks to the infrastructure built or speeded up for the World Cup, South Africa will be able to attract more tourists, more high-profile events and more investment, Jordaan said.

But "the creation of a single nation is as important as any financial reward", he said.

Jordaan, whose résumé includes cricket and soccer player, sports administrator and member of parliament -as well as anti-apartheid activist, spoke in an office in the shadow of Soccer City, the main World Cup stadium. The rat-a-tat-tat of jackhammers sounded as workers put the finishing touches to the stadium.

He said he was confident the country would be ready by June 11, when the World Cup opens.

Jordaan has had to answer repeated questions about whether South Africa . was capable of hosting a World Cup.

"We are a people that can ... deliver an event that only 19 countries over 103 years have delivered," he said. - Sapa