Mandela embroiled in World Cup tug-of-war

JOHANNESBURG: Nelson Mandela was at the centre of a World Cup tug-of-war on Thursday as organisers said they expected him to attend the tournament kick-off and his family insisted he was too frail to appear.

The government, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party and football’s world governing body FIFA said the 91-year-old would be present for next week’s kick-off when the host nation takes on Mexico.

But his family said people had to consider his state of health, reiterating previous comments that there was therefore no way he would make the trip to Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium.

“I, as a member of the family, together with the family, have taken the decision that my grandfather is 92 years, it would be really a challenge to take him out in a cold winter day to go and watch a game of football,” his grandson Mandla Mandela, the family’s spokesman, told AFP.

“We, as South Africans and the international community need to start considering his health. I really know that he’ll not be at the opening match.”

Mandla Mandela’s comments punctured optimism generated by statements from both the government and the party he used to lead that he would be the star guest at the opening ceremony on June 11. “Mandela has demanded to attend the World Cup. He requested four tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies, and the organisers have granted his wish,” Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile said in The Star newspaper.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was also quoted as saying that Mandela would be among the crowds at Soccer City, the flagship stadium adjoining the vast Soweto township which will stage the opening match and the July 11 final. Mandela campaigned for the World Cup to come to South Africa and was present in Zurich in 2004 when the country was named the event’s host.