South Africa

South Africa

The day FIFA stole a part of us

The day FIFA stole a part of us

On Wednesday morning, the unthinkable happened. The top brass of FIFA, although not the king himself, were arrested. In Zurich, of all places – where those who are rich and seek sanctuary usually get it. All through the day, developments kept coming: this vice-President of FIFA was among those arrested, the decisions to take the World Cup to the Arctic in 2018 and then the desert in 2022 were being probed for bribery allocations. And then, the bombshell. The Americans believe that the 2010 Football World Cup was only held here because money changed hands. Ruddy great wads of it. In a world where sport has been cheapened, all of us have been ripped off. And one of the people who suffered the most in the process was a man who had already suffered too much – Madiba himself. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

American lawyers, unlike our own, are fond of a big press conference, preferably live on TV. When the indictment came, acting US Attorney General Kelly Currie used a combination of legal-speak and media-friendly English.

Other parts of FIFA are implicated as well, as the attorney general mentioned; the World Cup 2010 selection bribery scheme, which is described in the indictment, alleges that in connection with a selection of South Africa, to host the 2010 World Cup. There were bribes paid in connection with that scheme.”

To go further into the documents, it appears that our officials reached an agreement with one Jack Warner, who headed the FIFA regional organisation CONCACAF, and we needed his vote. That cost, according to the document, $10 million. Or around a hundred million rand. But there was a problem: the money could not, for some reason, simply be handed over. And so it appears that money FIFA agreed to pay us for the tournament was routed to an account with the name of his federation, but controlled by him personally. From there, a relative of his took care of the rest.

That little detail is likely to make it much harder for anyone to pin anything on anyone here. The first name one thinks of when thinking of that tournament is Danny Jordaan. Who can forget his face back in 2000 when FIFA, to its eternal shame, decided the 2006 World Cup should go to Germany and not South Africa? (The Nigerian cab driver who took me home from work in London that night could not discuss anything else; he was spitting mad.) And who can forget Jordaan when we finally won the right to host the tournament? He was the closest we had to a national hero for a while.

And now, five years after the tournament, his reputation, his dignity, his very being, is going to be sullied by this. There will be many who say he deserved better. Perhaps so. Perhaps he found himself in a situation where he really had no option. Perhaps he can put his hand on his heart and say to the nation: Look, we really, really, really wanted that tournament, there was no other way for me to make it happen, and in the end, it was the right thing to do.

That’s the problem with bribery; it can almost be justified. But it is always wrong: in the end, you usually get found out, and it’s usually not worth the money.

Of course, the DA are going to make hay with this in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro Municipality. It’s hard to know if the ANC would have appointed Jordaan mayor there if they had known this was coming. As the investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, who has spent much of his life probing FIFA, put it on Wednesday, at the very least Jordaan knew he was mixing with some rough people.

Then we have to look at the situation regarding FIFA and our government. The bid to get the World Cup spanned several presidents: Mbeki was involved, Madiba helped us win it in the end, Motlanthe stood in for a bid, and Zuma actually hosted the thing. It seems unlikely that there will be any internal wrangling over this, it’s going to be just another mistake of governance. But perhaps the World Cup will no longer be part of the party’s “good story to tell”.

But the real damage, in a way, is to our own psyche.

It’s not just that officials had to be bribed; it’s that the World Cup was a chance for us to be a special nation again. Immediately after King Sepp opened the envelope that had our name on it, the party started. Across the entire country, the sound of the vuvuzela could be heard. A friend in Newtown joined an impromptu street party and found himself jumping for joy in one of those “South Africa, Alive with Possibility” ads as a result (he went on to write a right-of-centre political column for a newspaper, hidden in the motoring section). And we all told ourselves once again how special we were, how lucky we were, to be South African.

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Photo: Nelson Mandela holds the World Cup Trophy after FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter announced that South Africa is chosen to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup in Zurich May 15, 2004. REUTERS/Andreas Meier

We didn’t know then the cost. And particularly the cost to Nelson Mandela, shipped around the world to satisfy the craving of some two-bit crook, who just happened to hold the balance of voting power. To read that account is to make one weep as a South African.

It didn’t take long for the blinkers to start coming off. FIFA demanded special legal powers that were clearly unconstitutional, to satisfy sponsors. We just bent over and took it. (Read Ivo Vegter’s brilliant column from January 2010). We didn’t challenge, we didn’t shout. Even we, the media, so scared to be the ones to cause offence, and desperately craving accreditation for the stadiums, did what we were told – it wasn’t the Football World Cup; it was the FIFA World Cup. Media organisations who weren’t broadcast partners were told to apply for accreditation through a process that gave them no hope of getting anywhere near (it turned out that if a media organisation from a particular country applied, they were only granted accreditation if the broadcast partner from that country said so).

In 2008, Judge Chris Nicholson found that then-President Thabo Mbeki had interfered in the prosecution of Jacob Zuma. That ruling occurred on a Friday morning. That afternoon, ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte said the party would consider the future of Mbeki the next week. On the Sunday, just two days later, a press conference was scheduled with Mbeki and Blatter.

The wait for the two of them was arduous, and there was only one question to be asked: Would Mbeki resign if the ANC asked him to? It was a momentous point in our history.

Eventually, the two men came into the room, and strode to their podiums. The FIFA flag was given the same prominence as the national one. Both men were referred to as Mr President. FIFA was like a sovereign state. And say what you like about Mbeki, you cannot accuse him of being on the same level as Blatter; Blatter is as low as they come. Finally, I got the first question, and asked, very nervously, if Mbeki would resign. There was a sort of non-answer, and as soon as I tried to follow up, Blatter came to his rescue, complaining that it didn’t seem fair for Mbeki to have answer that question during a briefing about the World Cup.

I felt mortally offended, and if I had been any older and wiser and braver, I would have told him exactly how to butt out of the biggest South African story since 1994. But I didn’t.

The next day, Blatter and the organisation’s now-Secretary General Jérôme Valcke came to the 702 studios to be interviewed by Redi Direko (now, of course, married to the wonderful Dr Tlhabi). Valcke saw me in a corridor, and rounded on me for disrupting their press conference. I told him he was wrong, that it was nothing to do with him, and left it at that.

I should have used stronger language.

But it was clearly an indication that this was how these two men ran things; questions were not to be tolerated – if you didn’t have any money, you could bugger off, because they were in charge, and the rest of the world could go and jump.

It’s been the way for a very long time. The Americans talk about “two generations” of corruption within FIFA. After that length of time, the organisation is surely as close as you get to a Swiss Mafia. (US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch referred to FIFA as ‘Organised Soccer’ – Ed)

The problem for us is that that Mafia has stolen something from us. It’s stolen more than a moment in time, or part of our memory as a nation, or one of the events that is part of our founding myth. At a time when it can be difficult to have self-respect as a South African, they’ve stolen some of that too.

I should have used stronger language when I had the chance. DM

Main photo: South African soccer fans cheer as the winning bid for the 2010 World Cup is announced, Cape Town May 15, 2004. Thousands of fans packed into Cape Town’s Good Hope Centre to watch a live broadcast as FIFA President Sepp Blatter declared South Africa the winning bid to host the showpiece event. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings.


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