Hosting an international sporting event like the World Cup puts a country on the map, and this is especially true for South Africa, which won its bid to host soccer's 2010 tournament this month. Not only is the victory hailed as the culmination of South Africa's return to the international fold 10 years after the fall of apartheid, it will also be the first African country to host the lucrative Cup, which has long been dominated by Europeans and Latin Americans. 'All the African representation in Hong Kong called me. I was in Jiangmen and even the vice-mayor congratulated me on the bid. I got quite a shock,' says Mario Masher, South Africa's Consul-General to Hong Kong. Awarded an 'excellent' rating by FIFA, South Africa beat Morocco and Egypt and erased the memory of its failure four years ago, when it lost the bid to Germany by a single vote. Oceana delegate Charlie Dempsey, despite having been told by his confederation to vote for South Africa, abstained, complaining of pressure. Had Dempsey - who claimed he was offered bribes and put under pressure - cast a vote for South Africa, FIFA president Sepp Blatter would have had to break the 12-all tie and use his casting vote to vote for South Africa. FIFA later decided that the World Cup would be rotated between continents. Masher did not comment at length on the 2000 fracas, saying only, '[The failed bid] was obviously a loss - you can imagine the expectation that time to take up this challenge. The president was there, so were Fredrik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, so it wasn't just a showpiece.' Many credit the charismatic Mandela as the main swing factor who helped to bring victory to South Africa this time. Mandela, who also hinted that he would soon retire from public life, praised FIFA's 1976 decision to expel South Africa for its racist policies and called the bid the final unifying factor for Africa. 'South Africa and the African group of nations really aspire to get the African renaissance where it should be,' Masher agrees, referring to New Partnership for Africa's Development and the African Union. Criticisms of South Africa's 2000 bid centred on the country's lack of transport and sporting infrastructure and high crime rate. Masher said the country's victory was proof that its infrastructure had greatly improved in the past four years and that the country would be ready to deliver by the time 2010 rolled around. South Africa has plans for 13 stadiums in 11 cities, as well as a 98,000-capacity Soccer City in Johannesburg. Five venues are due to be built and five will be renovated to international standards. 'The FIFA technical committee came out to South Africa and had a look at all the infrastructure out there, and they were pretty satisfied,' he said. 'We have soccer stadiums in South Africa, because we've had world games already being played there. International teams have played there, and we probably need to extend and secure the stands and the infrastructure towards the venue,' he says, adding that the train track between Pretoria and Johannesburg should be completed by 2010. 'At this point in time I can give you no figures with regard to preparations [for] security but I can tell you they're going to be huge,' he says, adding that, as is the case for the Athens Olympics, there will probably be air and ground support. South Africa's unemployment rate lingers at around 30 per cent and poverty is widespread. Although the government has stepped up its HIV programme and will splash out on spectator health and safety services, some argue that the money could be better spent. 'Africa will also get to slice of the action - Africa has a lot to offer. The money that is going to be derived out of these will be spent in [poor] areas,' Masher said, adding that the Cup would give a long-term boost to grassroots sports in South Africa. 'It means development of infrastructure and cricket fields and rugby fields and playing fields in the previously disadvantaged areas like Soweto,' he said, adding that measures would be in place to ensure that access to the tournament was affordable to everyone. 'People just forget about their problems, their despair. It's every player's dream to play for his country.' As for South Africa's national team, Bafana Bafana ('The Boys') have yet to make it past the first round group stage of the World Cup. Masher is certain that not only will they be ready to play host, they will also show visitors a thing or two. 'Bafana Bafana will be ready to compete - you can be sure of a few surprises. Being a host team will bring out their very best,' he said, adding that he once played football at provincial level and that his father played for the South African side in neighbouring Mozambique. 'The whole of Africa will be there, I can promise you this,' he says.