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“The weather in South Africa is brilliant,” he said. “Wintertime you can still play some days in shorts there.”

Quick, when’s the next plane?

No one, of course, is naive enough to think that sport can gloss over South Africa’s frighteningly large array of complex and difficult problems. It is a promised land of much misery. No number of new World Cup stadiums, for instance, can hide such a shockingly large gulf between rich and poor.

Nevertheless, the last few weeks have been remarkable _ so much so that 2010 could perhaps mark a watershed in world perceptions of South Africa and its people. The rainbow nation. That colorful and positive name that South Africans give themselves makes so much sense now.

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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org