Archbishop Desmond Tutu believes the 2010 World Cup is a good chance to demonstrate the gains South Africa has made since the end of apartheid.

Tutu has long championed increased rights for minorities and the importance of friendship across ethnic boundaries.

“This thing is as important as Obama getting into the White House,” he told reporters Friday at the South African Embassy in the German capital. “For people of color everywhere, it would lift them.”

The anti-apartheid stalwart was a thorn in the side of the white government, helping to bring about the end of apartheid in 1994 when Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president.

The 77-year-old Tutu coined the phrase “rainbow nation” to describe South Africa’s mix of races, cultures and languages.

Tutu said the World Cup — like the just-completed Confederations Cup — will give South Africans the opportunity to take pride in the steps their country has taken in terms of social progress.

“That would be the greatest thing — helping our people come together, seeing all of our people with a new pride,” he said.

The 1984 Nobel Peace Prize laureate recalled the excitement that enveloped the country in 1995 when it hosted the Rugby World Cup, ultimately winning the tournament with a 15-12 upset of New Zealand.

“It did more for our country’s reconciliation than all my sermons for a year,” he said, adding that sports go a long way in promoting both racial and cultural unity.

“If human beings of all these different colors can come together … then there is hope for the world,” he said.

As to fears South Africa has fallen behind in building the infrastructure for the World Cup, Tutu said skepticism about its ability would be proven wrong.

“You know what? We’ve been free for only 15 years!” he said. “Give us a chance!”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.