x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ambassador will be watching it all on TV

South Africa's ambassador to the UAE says the hosts of the Fifa 2010 World Cup are expecting about 360,000 foreign visitors to the country.

Yacoob Abba Omar, South Africa's ambassador to the UAE, with Zakumi, the official mascot of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Yacoob Abba Omar, South Africa's ambassador to the UAE, with Zakumi, the official mascot of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

South Africa's ambassador to the UAE says the hosts of the Fifa 2010 World Cup are expecting about 360,000 foreign visitors to the country. Unfortunately for Yacoob Abba Omar, he will not be making the trip to his homeland during the month-long football festival. He and other South African diplomatic staff outside the 31 other countries making up the tournament field have been encouraged to stay at their posts to raise the nation's profile.

So Mr Omar, along with the South Africa 2010 mascot Zakumi - a stuffed leopard with green hair - will be in the Emirates, representing thousands of South Africans living here in what Mr Omar says will be a proud moment for his country. "I think there is huge pride and huge expectations," he says. "We are expecting half a percentage addition to our GDP just through the 2010 World Cup. The impact after that, it will put a lot of other cities on the map with new places for people to visit."

One way South Africans have been building themselves up for the tournament is by wearing the national team's football shirts to work on Fridays, the end of the work week in South Africa. Even the president, Jacob Zuma, has been getting into the spirit. So when Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited the country with Mr Omar in January, the ambassador had to issue a caution.

"When Sheikh Abdullah was visiting South Africa in January, we had to warn him, 'I hope you don't mind that the president is going to be in a T-shirt'," Mr Omar says. "[Sheikh Abdullah] turned to me and said, 'You should have warned me, I would have worn a T-shirt as well'." Relations between the two nations are strong, with total trade volume totalling around US$2.5 billion (Dh9.2bn). The UAE is South Africa's biggest export market in the Middle East and 23rd-largest in the world.

Emirates runs five flights a day to South Africa, and Etihad runs one, and Mr Omar says that almost 2,000 UAE residents visited the country last year. That figure is expected to be higher this year, thanks to the World Cup. Meanwhile, the South African Business Council of the UAE will be hosting a ceremony at the Emirates Golf Club before the opening match between South Africa and Mexico, said Natalie Warren, the secretary general for the council.

@Email:mchung@thenational.ae