COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil - World football chief Sepp Blatter described Nelson Mandela as one of the "greatest humanists of our time" on Thursday after the former South African president passed away.
"It is in deep mourning that I pay my respects to an extraordinary person, probably one of the greatest humanists of our time and a dear friend of mine, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela," said Blatter, who is in Brazil for Friday's World Cup draw.
Blatter paid warm personal tribute to Mandela, who famously embraced South Africa's predominantly white rubgy team after they won the 1995 World Cup on home soil in a poignant moment of racial reconciliation.
"He and I shared an unwavering belief in the extraordinary power of football (and sport generally) to unite people in peace and friendship, and to teach basic social and educational values as a school of life," said Blatter.
The FIFA chief recalled how Mandela was feted at the football World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the first time the continent had hosted the event.
"When he was honoured and cheered by the crowd at Johannesburg's Football City stadium on 11 July 2010, it was as a man of the people, a man of their hearts, and it was one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced. For him, the World Cup in South Africa truly was 'a dream come true'," Blatter reminisced.
"Nelson Mandela will stay in our hearts forever. The memories of his remarkable fight against oppression, his incredible charisma and his positive values will live on in us and with us."
FIFA said that in respect of Mandela's memory, flags of its 209 member associations will fly at half-mast at its Swiss HQ and said a minute's silence will be held before the next round of international matches.