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South Africa Preps For Historic World Cup


As we continue with our International Briefing, we have another story for you out of Africa, this one about sport. Lucas Radebe has scored remarkable achievements in football, which is of course known as soccer here in America. He grew up under South Africa's apartheid regime in Soweto. Despite that and more personal challenges, he went on to international acclaim, captaining South Africa's first-ever team appearance in the 1998 World Cup tournament. Since then, he's maintained his ties to his community through sponsorships, programs and events.

Lucas Radebe stopped through here in Washington, as the official ambassador for the 2010 World Cup, which will be held in South Africa. South Africa will be the first African country to host the event and he stopped by our studios to tell us more. Mr. Radebe, welcome. Thank you for joining us.


Mr. LUCAS RADEBE (Official Ambassador for 2010 World Cup, South Africa): Thank you very much, Michel. It's a great pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: How far along are preparations for World Cup?

Mr. RADEBE: Well I think we're going to be ready, you know, for next year. Already the stadium is looking good, you're nearly finished. You know most of the infrastructure now it's in place. I think now, the only thing that we've to generate the atmosphere now and get the people to realize that it is going to happen.

MARTIN: You don't think people are excited about it?

Mr. RADEBE: No they are excited, the excitement is building up nicely at the moment, you know, I've got the series that's going on, you know around the country, which really now people, you know, they're getting into it and really looking forward to this great spectacle.


MARTIN: What do you think it means to South Africa and to the continent, to host this worldwide sporting event?

Mr. RADEBE: I mean, we know, how sports has united our country. You know, now we call the "Rainbow Nation," and, you know, it's done so well with, you know, rubbing off with that Madiba Magic.

MARTIN: Madiba being Nelson Mandela.

Mr. RADEBE: With yeah, Nelson Mandela. And since then, I think sports has taken off and it has made differences not only to the community, but to us as well individuals, those who want to take football at the highest level or to play at the highest level.

MARTIN: I want to ask a little bit more about that. In this country, as I assume in South Africa, sometimes these big events are controversial. Because people say, well, we have many needs here. And the resources and the energy that goes into hosting these big events might be better spent on other things. And yet, other people say, as you have, this is the kind of thing that's unifying, it's a project that brings people together. Sport like music is a universal language.

Mr. RADEBE: Yeah.

MARTIN: But what do you say to people who say, we have many problems…

Mr. RADEBE: Yeah.

MARTIN: …and we need to spend our money on other things?

Mr. RADEBE: Yeah, I think this is going to improve our country, you know, and unify South Africa and unify the world and the continent as well. I think it's going to be of great knowledge, you know, to our youngsters, you know, that you can learn through sports, you know, different elements of the game, you know, you may (unintelligible).

Because when you're a football player, you don't know what impact you make, you know, because the only thing you do is football and (unintelligible) in that. But then when you dare reaching to those, you know, people have dreams and ambitions and they want to be at the highest level, as well.

MARTIN: How did you fall in love with your sport?

Mr. RADEBE: It started at an early age. I mean, during the apartheid days, well we didn't nothing to do, you know, we're confined to our township, you know, where you couldn't go anywhere else. And we didn't have any exposure to TV, where we can see international games. So we only played in a local football grounds, which was dusty streets and you know back homes and then that's where the love of the game started.

MARTIN: Who were your role models growing up? Because you were not, because of apartheid, you weren't really exposed as you said to the international…

Mr. RADEBE: Yeah.

MARTIN: …scene. Did you think yourself, yes I can be a professional, I can do this, I can travel the world?

Mr. RADEBE: I'm from a sporting background, you know, all my brothers and sisters and I think my mother, she was very involved in sport and in community building as well. So she had a football team. She had a netball team she was running as well. And my older brother played for the local team. That's where we got the inspiration from, you know.

We always - every Sunday, when I went to watch him play. And I started as well at the age of eight, you know, playing in the streets, breaking a few bones, you know. But not knowing how far you can go with this sport, you know, when I grew up. And, you know, you realize this is a god-given talent and I think this could make a good career. But, you know, with parents, they don't believe in that, you know, they thought it's just an excuse.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RADEBE: You know, (unintelligible) so. But…

MARTIN: Isn't it?

Mr. RADEBE: Not really, no. I think, I took it very serious because, you know, as parents, they want you to be doctors and physicians and all that. So I had a mind of my own.

MARTIN: How did you wind up playing in England?

Mr. RADEBE: Very strange, first of all, because I had never been to England before, I've never heard about the club before and especially Leeds itself, which was the most racist city in England, and I think I wasn't really expected to do so well.

MARTIN: You were not - you didn't think you were expected to do so well. You were recruited, though, right?

Mr. RADEBE: I was recruited, yeah, with Phil Masinga. I think when they did come to watch me play, I was injured a couple of times. So they couldn't have the chance to watch me. So eventually they brought me in just to go on trial, you know, and I think I impressed, and then they signed me on.

MARTIN: Violence, though, was part of the reason that you ended up playing football in England. The specific details were that in 1991, you were shot while walking down the street.

Mr. RADEBE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: You were not critically wounded, but on the one hand, random violence has become, sadly, part of the experience, the post-apartheid experience.

Mr. RADEBE: Yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: And I just wondered, did you think that you were randomly targeted, or did you think that it was part of sort of a sick competition to try to take you out of the action professionally?

Mr. RADEBE: I think during those days, some of the players got shot, you know, for changing clubs, but I lived in a community where I didn't have any enemies, and they supported the team that I played for, which is Kaizer Chiefs, and the motive behind that, I don't know. You know, those are the things that sometimes happen, but when it happened to me, for me I think it was a blessing in disguise, because I thought I wouldn't play football again, but then that made me look at life in a different perspective.

When I went to play in England, because it's a boy's dream, you know, to play at the highest level, especially in Leeds and in the Premiership which is the most entertaining league in the world, the most challenging, and I think with the character that I had and my background from home, you know, during apartheid days, it helped me through…

MARTIN: But was it strange going from a segregated, apartheid environment to a majority white environment where people are not always so happy to see you?

Mr. RADEBE: Yeah, absolutely, because I remember my experience (unintelligible). When I arrived, you know, I think my first game, too, there was no black people in the turnstiles, and I was like, you know, I asked people - because I didn't know what was going on. And I asked one of the players, is there any, you know, black community. I mean, they said no, there is - no, there was a place called Chapeltown nearby, and I was told not to go there, but I thought, you know, because I'm black, why can I not go to a black area.

But I did hang around with a few black guys, and for me it was normal. I was there to play football. I was there to make South Africa proud. It's a great opportunity.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Lucas Radebe. He's an international football or soccer star, as we say in the United States, and he's representing the 2010 World Cup as a goodwill ambassador.

England is now really your home, right?

Mr. RADEBE: Yeah, a second home.

MARTIN: But that does speak to a point, though. One of the things that happens with international sports stars is they become global citizens, and you've played for the South Africa team in World Cup, but many people in England think of you as one of them, as well. Is that ever hard? I mean, do people ever say, why don't you come home all the time?

Mr. RADEBE: I know I had to sacrifice a lot, you know, to go abroad, sacrifice my family and friends, but you know, I had to go reach for greater challenges, you know. And as a soccer player coming from Africa, you know, I had to work harder, and you know, when people say, you know, why don't you come home and enhance our football there, I say, you know what? As a human being, you always want - you're aiming high.

So I knew where I was going, and hopefully I wanted to represent the country very well just to show that we can, as well, compete. You know, all those years when we couldn't play international football, so this is a great opportunity to show the world that we can, as well, compete in England, not only in - nearby in Europe.

MARTIN: What does it take to be excellent at your sport?

Mr. RADEBE: It takes a lot of hard work and commitment, sacrifice, you know, plus…

MARTIN: What does that mean?

Mr. RADEBE: You never know, you know, how far would you go with a sport. Each and every day that it comes, you've got to appreciate it. I mean, I had a lot of friends, you know, who played sport, and they were absolutely better than me, you know, and there's those who can't play because of different conditions, some of them possibly are disabled and some of them with difficult conditions, you know, to play.

And - so I find myself in a great position where I can go and represent them, you know, and I never forget where I come from because I know with my (unintelligible) with 11 kids, you know, including myself, and my mom and dad, how we've grown, you know, in the township, in a four-room house, you know, everybody sleeping - I wanted to get out of that. I wanted life to be easier. You know, I wanted to make my parents proud, not only that, but my friends, you know, or my countrymen, you know, and excel in all I do.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask you, just briefly if I may, your life has not been all easy since you became a sports star. Many people know - and I'm so sorry about this - the loss of your wife last year after a long battle with cancer, a very young woman, and I just wanted to ask how you're doing, if I may, how you and your children are doing.

Mr. RADEBE: Now we're doing fine. I mean, that shows as well that we're only human, you know, and as a role model and an icon, you know, people think you live in a different world, you know, you're untouchable, but then the same things happen to you, you know, like normal human being. But I mean, I had a lot of support, you know, from the community, and we're coping very well.

You know, we're getting stronger by the day, and I think things like that can only make you appreciate what life is all about and looking at life in different perspective, you know, and as well, giving knowledge to our kids that you know what, cherish each and every day as it comes, and thank God that, you know, you are able to wake up in the morning and do what you do best.

MARTIN: And finally I wanted to ask, do you have any wisdom to share?

Mr. RADEBE: Yeah, I mean for me, it's like live your life to the fullest. You know, don't look back. You don't want any regrets in life, and then just go get it and give 100 percent in whatever you do.

MARTIN: Any prediction for who's going to win World Cup?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RADEBE: That's a hard question. I mean, if South Africa goes to the second rung, I think that will be a successful World Cup, but it's going to be tough.

MARTIN: Okay. We're going to save this tape in a special lockbox and play it for you and see what happens.

Mr. RADEBE: Yeah, hopefully, hopefully I'm right, and then I can come back here and…

MARTIN: And then you can come back.

Mr. RADEBE: I can come back and say, you know, I told you.

MARTIN: All right. Lucas Radebe is an international football star. He is South Africa's ambassador for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in South Africa, the first country in Africa to host the World Cup competition. He was kind enough to join us as part of his goodwill tour to the States in our studio in Washington. Thank you for coming.

Mr. RADEBE: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.