x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

South Africa out to prove sceptics wrong

Danny Jordaan is confident that the World Cup he did so much to bring to South Africa will be a huge success.

Danny Jordaan is confident that the World Cup he did so much to bring to South Africa will be a huge success.
Danny Jordaan is confident that the World Cup he did so much to bring to South Africa will be a huge success.

With his scruffy beard and downcast eyes, Danny Jordaan has the look of a world-weary man who has endured more than his fair share of ups and downs. And so he should. As head of South Africa's 2010 World Cup campaign, this year marks Jordaan's 15th on a remarkable journey that began in Chicago in 1994 and will reach its denouement when the final concludes in Johannesburg next July 11.

Jordaan is the face of 2010, the all-seeing, all-knowing man who not only put South Africa's bid together, but has driven the World Cup challenge with relentless energy, good humour and commitment. It has been the 57-year-old's job to open the world's eyes to the remarkable social and economic transformation of South Africa and to confront the Afro-pessimists, invariably using his warm smile and in-built optimism to win them over.

Neither naturally charismatic nor completely at ease in public, the former footballer has nonetheless ploughed on, doing more than anyone to shine the spotlight on the unfolding story that will lead to the staging of the World Cup next year. Jordaan admits he is exhausted, but the finish line is in sight and, besides, his background as a political activist taught him the virtues of patience, hard work and dedication. A black man, he now lives in the rainbow democracy he campaigned and fought for. He recalls his first meeting with Fifa, when the dream to host a World Cup first took hold.

"It was at a Fifa congress in Chicago in 1994, held to discuss increasing the number of teams in the tournament. There was a lot of horse-trading and the environment gave me an opportunity to get in touch with all the continental leaders," he says. "We took inspiration from the World Cup that year and the South African Football Association (SAFA) decided to make a bid after I had compiled a report on the 94 World Cup."

On Sept 16 that year, a letter landed at Fifa's office in Zurich. South Africa declared its intentions. Jordaan was vice president of the SAFA and after a crisis in administration he became the chief executive. Not long after, he was thrust into formally pitching for the World Cup, a job that required exactly the sort of work ethic he demonstrated. Jordaan's pitch was helped when South Africa hosted - and won- the African Cup of Nations tournament in 1996. All the big shooters came to town: Sepp Blatter, Joao Havelange and Lennart Johannson.

They were evidently swept up by the national fervour and South Africa's first world infrastructure. Jordaan was in business. As a former member of the National Sports Council, which during the apartheid years campaigned for "no normal sport in an abnormal society" and was snootily dismissed by white leaders as "the African National Congress in tracksuits", the Cup of Nations was a personal triumph for Jordaan. The years of resistance and fighting had been worth it.

South Africa pinned its hopes on hosting the 2006 World Cup. "When Nelson Mandela walked free in 1990, some saw it as an act of hope. Others saw it as an act of fear," says Jordaan. "There were fears of an infrastructure and economic decline. We decided that hosting world events would draw the world's focus - we would have to have a world-class infrastructure." Yet the country over-reached. A grand act of treachery on the part of the Oceania delegate led to Germany winning the bid. Jordaan, his committee and, indeed, the whole of South Africa was shattered. As one of the world's newest democracies, the country had enjoyed its time in the sun and developed a feeling of entitlement. Yet here it was denied.

In the cold light of day, however, the decision was the correct one. South Africa was nowhere near ready. The disappointment gave officials time to re-gather and re-focus. Jordaan drew a parallel between his days as an anti-apartheid campaigner and the failed bid. "The experience of having setbacks but continuing to struggle on is part of the culture I come from," he says. "You have to never surrender and to hope again."

Undaunted, Jordaan and his team took stock, redoubled their efforts and chased down 2010. Jordaan never missed a single Fifa meeting, congress or tournament. He reckons he travelled 1.5 million miles per year in his quest to secure the bid. With more time, and that sort of dedication, the chances of staging an epic World Cup were much improved. The bid's rough edges were smoothed out. In May 2004, Blatter drew South Africa's name from the envelope and declared: "South Africa will organise the 2010 World Cup."

Mandela, who was there, remarked that he felt "like a young man of 50".It was second time lucky and an enormous accomplishment for Jordaan; the ultimate reward for years of slogging and glad-handing. Yet, not long after, the doom merchants started putting the boot in, warning of the dire consequences of the World Cup going to Africa. Jordaan, who had lived through apartheid as a black man, forcing his family to live in exile in America, was unfazed. Bid won, he was back at work the next week, determined to deliver on his promises.

Asked if he was irritated by the naysayers and critics, Jordaan admitted to occasionally getting his back up. "Sometimes I get agitated, but I understand that they don't come from the history I do. I have learned to be tolerant. Every organising committee faces the same issues. We are not different to any other nation. You can ask the guys in Sydney, Athens, South Korea and Japan. Even the German people were against the World Cup once."

He has no doubt that the World Cup, expensive as it is, is good for the country, its image and its morale. "South Africa has established itself with its ability to host such events," says Jordaan, pointing to the hosting of the rugby World Cup, athletics World Cup, All Africa Games, Twenty20 World Cup, African Cup of Nations and more, including the Indian Premier League. Even now, South Africa is hosting a tour by the Irish and British Lions rugby team and is about to host the Confederations Cup.

"You can look around and see how everything has improved since 1990," he says. "Look at the airports, roads, IT, hotels, Gautrain and the bus system. These things prove the point that the country has become better under democracy." With little more than a year to go to the June 11 opening ceremony, Jordaan's work is far from done. Recently he was in Europe dampening criticism of the South African government's decision to refuse a visa request for the Dalai Lama to attend a peace conference intended to promote the World Cup.

Naturally, the question of security crops up often; not surprising with more than 50 people murdered in South Africa each day. "We have committed Rand1.3 billion (Dh506m) to increase the police force. Our security teams worked at World Cup 2006, Euro 2008 and the Beijing Olympics. They have worked at 15 major events and we are confident they can provide a safe environment." Experience has evidently taught Jordaan how to deliver a sharp line when responding to the country's appalling record of crime. "There are two separate issues here - societal crime and event security. When teams come over, we know where they will train and play and where the fans will be arriving and staying. I guarantee that they will be safe.

"Last year we had 9.1 million tourists. There were the usual things like petty theft and we had 17000 incidents but not one major incident. We have great experience organising sports events: there have been 22 major events in 15 years with no problems at all." The issues with transport are also overblown, he insists. "There is a massive airport expansion in Johannesburg... it will be able to handle 30 million passengers per year," he says. "There is a train from the airport to the city due to be completed in 2010. Extra buses will be laid on, plus there's a rapid bus transport system in the works."

Not even the global credit crunch curbs his enthusiasm, although he concedes that budgets have run over. Last October the government allocated a further R1.4 bn to host cities for World Cup projects because of escalating costs. Costs have reached a staggering R12bn ? more than four times the estimate in 2004 - and the expected number of World Cup visitors has had to be revised from 900 000 to about 400 000 in light of the global economic downswing.

Jordaan plays it cool on the mounting price tag, although the truth is that it's not his problem. His mandate is to deliver "the best World Cup yet" - the accountants and city fathers must worry about budgets. More recently, Jordaan and his team copped it for a lack of marketing around the Confederations Cup. Some of the world's greatest players, among them Fernando Torres and Kaka, are due to play in South Africa over the coming weeks, but you would not know it.

"There's nothing, not even at the airport, that shows you that this is a Confederations Cup host city," railed Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke, who then complained about sluggish ticket sales. Jordaan cannot say as much, but World Cup sponsors, who also support the Confederations Cup, are clearly saving their money for 2010. Moreover, local city councils, which are primarily responsible for the marketing, evidently haven't woken up to the need to shake a leg and get their good citizens excited.

Jordaan can only despair. "It will be a poor show if television audiences see empty stadiums." There is another grave concern, one publicly expressed by Jordaan this week. The South African national team, popularly known as Bafana Bafana ("Boys Boys" in Zulu), are in freefall. They are ranked 72nd in the world, leading Jordaan to claim it would be a "major disaster" if they failed to advance to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup.

Equally, failure to reach the second round of the World Cup will be a major embarrassment, not least to Jordaan, who knows this is vital to keep the World Cup party going in South Africa. "We have one and only one chance to show what we are capable of doing in 2010 and that is the Confederations Cup. It is vital we do well and reach at least the semi-finals, otherwise it will be a disaster for our World Cup hopes."

World Cup success will need to be delivered (and measured) in more than pure competitive, logistical and organisational terms. For South Africa, there are also social imperatives. Staging the greatest sports show on earth offers the country a golden opportunity to establish a new national identity, to blur the divisions between black and white and to empower the disadvantaged. As Jordaan admits, the pursuit of the World Cup was part of a broader agenda. "The idea is that the World Cup takes our country more along the path of hope," he says. "It was a struggle to liberate this country. We can't let it slip... the World Cup will help us get there. When a country has come from a struggle between black and white people we want them to come together and pursue the promotion of the country together - the World Cup is such a project.

"We must create access to the economy for all our people. "Apartheid excluded 90 per cent of our population from taking part in the daily economic life of our country, to strengthen our economy you must create access for all parts of society. "As a developing country, hosting the tournament will improve the country and help democracy succeed. It's a huge responsibility. Will it be a successful World Cup? There's too much at stake for it to be anything else."

Jordaan, you can be sure, has played his part in the greatest possible way. The 2010 World Cup will be his legacy as much as South Africa's. cvanderberg@thenational.ae