JOHANNESBURG - Nelson Mandela says the upcoming World Cup is "one of the greatest" events in Africa's history.

In a letter to FIFA, the 91-year old Mandela said the month-long competition, which starts Friday, is more than just a game.

Mandela says in the letter that the tournament "symbolizes the power of football to bring people together from all over the world, regardless of language, the colour of one's skin, political or religious persuasion."

South Africa President Jacob Zuma read the letter at a FIFA congress in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

There have been doubts whether Mandela will make an appearance because of his advanced age, but his grandson said Tuesday the former president will briefly greet players and fans at the opening game.