My big sports trip this year took place in June and July when I made my first visit to South Africa to cover the World Cup football finals for the Voice of America.  In fact, it was probably the biggest sports trip I’ve made in my 22+ years at VOA, based on the historical significance of the event and because I broadcast to Africa.

I’ll remember the first football World Cup ever staged in Africa on a lot of different levels.

The atmosphere at the stadiums was fantastic, with almost a carnival feel at the venues.  I took this up close and personal photo of an American fan outside Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

Sonny at Soccer City Stadium

Seeing former South African President Nelson Mandela on 11 July at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg was also a thrill.  There was a lot of doubt that Mr. Mandela would make an appearance because of his frail health, but he came out before the final between Spain and the Netherlands, waving to the cheering fans who rose out of their seats.

Emil Blows His Vuvuzela

My media seat that night was virtually at the top of the massive stadium, and it seemed like every fan was blowing a vuvuzela, the long plastic horn that provided the signature sound throughout football’s premier event.

My friend Emil also blew his vuvuzela a few times before I left South Africa.  Emil was my main taxi driver in Johannesburg, and we would debate that day’s matches and the teams that were playing well on our way to either Ellis Park or Soccer City.  Occasionally, though, Emil would get a bit carried away with his vuvuzela, and I’d have to remind him, “Hands on the wheel, Emil!”