DURBAN, July 5 (Xinhua) -- South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday night bestowed the country' s highest civilian honor on International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge in appreciation for the IOC' s significant contribution to the struggle against apartheid racial discrimination in South Africa.
At the official opening ceremony of the 123rd IOC session in the South African port city of Durban, Zuma said it was an opportunity for South Africans to recognize the outstanding contribution of the IOC to the struggle against apartheid and racial oppression, the South African Press Association (SAPA) reported.
Because of the former South African government' s apartheid policies, the IOC banned apartheid South Africa from entering the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
On Tuesday Zuma said this was a "critical intervention" in the fight against apartheid.
Decades later, when South Africa was advancing towards freedom and democracy, the IOC encouraged the formation of united non-racial sports federations.
Zuma said this led to democratic South Africa's participation in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona with "the IOC's full encouragement and support" .
In bestowing the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo (Gold class)on Rogge, South Africa was demonstrating its "immense gratitude to the IOC for the solidarity and commitment to human rights in our country."
Zuma said sport could help promote peace, friendship, unity and tolerance worldwide.
"As South Africans, we have seen the value of sport in the last 17 years of freedom and democracy. It has been an important tool of building patriotism, social cohesion and unity." he said.
Zuma added that sport had also brought "enormous" economic benefits to South Africa.
"We hope therefore that Durban 2011 will advance the ultimate goal of the Olympic movement, to build a peaceful and better world through sport," SAPA reported him saying.
On July 6 the IOC will announce the host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The contenders -- Munich in Germany, Annecy in France and Pyeongchang in South Korea - have been campaigning in Durban and will make presentations on the morning of July 6.