Victory! How the battle was won

By Alex Duval Smith in Cape Town
Posted on Saturday, 19 June 2010 16:12

The inside story of how South Africa fought back from losing

the bid for the 2006 event to win the right to host the 19th World Cup.

To Abedi “Pelé” Ayew, 15 May 2004 ranks alongside the most stunning victories of his career as a professional footballer. On that day, at the World Trade Centre in Zurich, FIFA president Joseph Blatter opened an envelope and announced: “It will be South Africa.”?

The former Ghanaian international, now aged 45, played a ?crucial role in South Africa’s ?victory. “After our terrible defeat in the bid for 2006, our delegation had done everything to win this one,” he recalls.

“On the eve of the vote, we were gathered in a hotel room in Zurich to rehearse our speeches. There were three Nobel Prize winners in the room – former South African presidents F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Thabo Mbeki. We were with a lawyer who was editing our speeches down to the last comma. He even had the cheek to say to Mandela, ‘stop, you’ve overshot your seven minutes, you’re going to have to cut that bit.’ I’ll remember that scene all my life.”?

The next day, the South African delegation – accompanied by its ambassadors, Abedi Pelé, Cameroonian Roger Milla, Liberian George Weah and Zambian Kalusha Bwalya – made a flawless presentation to the FIFA board. Most people remember the explosion of joy that followed the announcement. But what is less well known is that the South African campaign to host the World Cup dates back practically to the dawn of democracy in that country.

In 1994, South African Football Association president Stix Morewa travelled to the United States to watch the World Cup. His trip marked South African football’s re-entry into world sport after the dark years of the apartheid boycott. Mandela had become president just months before and most South Africans were in a state of euphoria. Morewa was no different, and when he stepped off the plane in Johannesburg upon returning from the United States, he gaily announced: “We would like to host the 2006 World Cup.”?

No laughing matter?

Everyone thought Morewa’s declaration was a bit of a joke, recalls local organising committee chairman Irvin Khoza. “People were laughing at us,” he said?.

But not Nelson Mandela. He called in South Africa’s football officials and ordered them to get to work.

Danny Jordaan, later to become chief executive of the local organising committee, was an MP at the time. But during the struggle against apartheid, he had acquired a track record of using sport as a tool for political change. He also had – and has – a stubborn personality.Mandela chose him for the job.

Abedi Pelé remembers his first encounter with Jordaan. “His argument was that this was not going to be a South African World Cup but an African one. He carried within himself this conviction, instilled in him by Mandela, that we all had to fight together as Africans. But of course, this is not something we were used to!”

Convincing other African countries was the first of many hurdles. In 1995, South Africa staged and won the Rugby World Cup. The following year, it stepped in for ?Kenya and organised the African Cup of Nations, which it won against Tunisia. Blatter declared: “Africa’s time has come.”

The Confederation of African Football also indicated its support, without squarely backing South Africa’s bid for 2006. Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt and Ghana threw their hats into the ring as contenders.

Aware of the need to convince the rest of the continent, Jordaan began jetting around Africa, starting with Ouagadougou during the Burkinabe African Cup of Nations in 1998. Armed with a bag of commemorative bronze medals and a dozen cardboard boxes of Bafana Bafana jerseys, he preached the virtues of an African World Cup. He was, in a sense, Mandela’s disciple, preaching African unity under the banner of football.?

After hours spent on planes and in African airports, he convinced Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria to withdraw. Morocco stood firm with its bid, against the likes of England and Germany.Brazil, whose bid was considered weak, withdrew three days before the FIFA executive committee meet-ing on 7 July 2000.

That day, for the first time in ?FIFA’s history, more than one round of voting was required to determine the 2006 host. Morocco and England were eliminated – one in the first round and the other in the second. Even though South Africa was the favourite, Germany won the third round of voting by 12 votes to 11.

The late Charles Dempsey, a New Zealander, had respected the instructions of his Oceania confederation and voted for South Africa in the first and second rounds. He abstained in the third.

Had he voted as in the previous rounds, South Africa and Germany would have tied, forcing a casting vote from Blatter who was known to favour Jordaan and his team.

‘You can pack your bags’

Dempsey, who died in 2008, later claimed to have become confused by the stress of the three rounds. Irvin Khoza blamed German interference: “The head of the German bid, Franz Beckenbauer, came to our hotel. He said: ‘You guys can pack your bags.’ After so many years of work, it was our saddest moment.”?

But the South Africans took the defeat on the chin. “As soon as we were back from Switzerland, we were called to Mandela’s residence,” says Khoza. “He simply said ‘I’m counting on you boys’ and we knew we had to go for 2010. We also immediately got Blatter’s support. He said the 2010 bid would be reserved for Africa.”?

But, once again, the Confederation of African Football did not actively help South Africa’s case.Nigeria briefly declared its intention to run, along with South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco. “Morocco was the biggest threat to us,” says Khoza. “With Nigeria out, we were the only sub-Saharan country in the running. That meant we had nine votes, for sure.”?

For Jordaan, it was back to the airport and an unequalled round of jet-setting.

“I had to see the 24 executive members of FIFA. I had told myself that I would see each of them in their own country, at least twice,” says the chief executive of the local organising committee. “It was a crazy period. I would find myself in a European airport, in front of the departures board, wondering whether I should board a flight for Stockholm to go and see Lennart Johansson or New York for a meeting with Chuck Blazer or whether I should go via Zurich and pop in on Sepp Blatter.”?

Khoza realised that the Caribbean vote would be crucial. “We had to convince Jack Warner, then vice-president of FIFA and president of CONCACAF¹. But Jack said that if we wanted his support we would have to arrange for Mandela to visit him personally. We approached the Mandela Foundation for permission to take him to the Caribbean. He was quite happy to go but his doctors would hear none of it. So we leased a special plane with medical equipment and staff, but then the government called me to Pretoria to ban us from going.”?

Mandela magic

On the highway driving back to Johannesburg, Khoza grabbed his mobile phone and called ?Tokyo Sexwale, a Mandela confidant who is currently minister of housing. Khoza asked Sexwale to speak directly to Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel. Done deal: Mandela flew to Trinidad on 30 April 2004.

Two weeks later, it was time for the ballot in Zurich. After FIFA confirmed that joint bids would no longer be considered, Libya and Tunisia withdrew. One one round of voting was required as Morocco lost to South Africa by 10 to 14.

Jordaan refuses to take the credit. ”We owe everything to Mandela who fought so that South Africa could hold its head high in the face of the world,” he says. “This vision inspires us to keep doing better. That’s why we owe our success to him.”?

Adebi Pelé also thanks Mandela. “He taught me to believe in the capacity of our continent. I am no more South African than I am Moroccan. I could have been in two minds. But Morocco does not have a Mandela. That man gave Africa a sense of worth and that’s why the entire continent must feel pride in hosting the 2010 World Cup final.”

This article was first published in The Africa Report’s World Cup 2010 special edition in May.

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