SA TENNIS OPEN
Monfils Visits Soccer City Stadium & Mandela's House
Johannesburg, South Africa
by ATP Staff|
World No. 13 Gael Monfils, the top seed at the SA Tennis Open in Johannesburg, cast his eyes over South Africa’s 2010 FIFA World Cup preparations in a visit to the Soccer City stadium in Soweto on Monday.
The stadium, originally built in 1987, has been reconstructed into a 94,700 capacity stadium, dubbed the ‘Ring of Fire’ by the locals, that will host the opening and closing games of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Monfils, travelled to Soweto via police escort, and was clearly relishing the opportunity to visit the world cup venue, updating his twitter page en route, writing, “I'm going to soccercity (sic) stadium in soweto (sic)”.
Upon arrival at the Stadium, Monfils and his entourage were met by Venue Director, Jacques Grobbelaar, who led the crew on a 45-minute guided tour of the stadium. During the tour, Grobbelaar explained that the venue, only 20 days away from completion, is based upon the iconic African pot known as the calabash.
The stadium is mainly filled with orange seats, but there are also lines of grey seats, representing the road to the FIFA World Cup, the direction towards the other FIFA World Cup venues around South Africa, and two separate lines representing Germany and Brazil, the venues of the 2006 and 2014 FIFA World Cups.
Half way through the tour, Monfils and his team ventured down to the 12m Rand (US$1.5m) pitch to see exactly where the dreams of the 32 competing nations will be played out. The pitch is generally off limits to people visiting the stadium, however a special exemption was given to Monfils, who proved that he was just as adept with a football at his feet than with a racquet in his hand.
“I am a big fan of football, but I don’t have a favourite team, I prefer to watch the soccer players as they are so talented,” admitted Monfils. “I used to play football when I was young, but also my dad was a professional soccer player, so I used to play a lot.”
Monfils was clearly impressed with the stadium saying, “It is amazing, it’s gorgeous, its huge, it’s very huge. I have been in the Stade de France in Paris, and I think this one is a little bit bigger, and has an amazing feel. I would love to come back for the World Cup, but it depends on my schedule, I think it is during Wimbledon, but if I can for sure I will do it."
The Frenchman also didn’t miss the opportunity to keep his fans updated by uploading pictures and video from his visit to his Twitter page. Monfils also sent the pictures to members of the French national team boasting that he had beaten them to the stadium, locker room and onto the pitch.
Grobbelar also explained that the stadium was also the venue for Nelson Mandela’s first mass rally after he was released from prison in 1990. With that in mind Monfils headed to the suburb of Orlando West, in Soweto, to Mandela House, the place where Mandela raised his family from 1946 until his imprisonment in 1962.
The two bedroom house, located at 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto, today stands as a museum aimed at providing an effective and meaningful experience to all visitors about the context of Mandela’s home life and his life as a whole.
The Frenchman was shown around the small house and was clearly moved by the experience.
“When the lady came and explained Nelson Mandela’s life, to know all the little details and where he used to live,” said Monfils, “it’s an amazing experience. It gives you a lot of emotion, and seeing the writing on the wall and the pictures and the gifts people gave him, it was a very good experience for me.”
Reflecting after the visit, Monfils added, “tennis is a sport, but this is history. I do like the Nelson Mandela story and what he came from and what he made, so for me it was one of my biggest experiences in my small life, and I wish maybe one day I will come back with my parents to show them exactly this, because this is very good.”
The last word of course comes via his Twitter page, with Monfils tweeting on the ride back to hotel, “unbelievable experience to visit Nelson Mandela’s house”.