Sunday, September 27, 2009

South Africa's marriage of (in)convenience…


With just nine months to the start of the 2010 World Cup, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the two people primarily responsible for ensuring South Africa hosts the football fraternity with aplomb are working from the same playbook.

But expecting Irvin “Iron Duke” Khoza and Danny Jordaan, the chairman and CEO of the 2010 World Cup Local Organising Committee (LOC), to sing from the same hymn sheet, when they can barely stand the sight of each other, is a pretty big ask…

With that thought in mind, as I - and other journalists at the World Trade Centre in Zurich - witnessed FIFA president Sepp Blatter announce the winning bid on Saturday, 15th May 2004, I wasted little time in asking, after the rapturous celebration of the joyous South African contingent in the hall had quietened, how Danny saw his post-bid future.

With his frayed relations with Khoza (the president of club side Orlando Pirates, who had been the chairman of the 2010 bid, while Jordaan was its CEO) known to African football insiders, I expressed my fears that it would be hard going for the two to continually co-pilot the 2010 project.

Always the consummate diplomat, Jordaan (pictured above), whom I have known for close to a decade now, cleverly sidestepped the question by choosing to savour the ecstatic moment and deferring his decision on his future for “later on”, as I expected he would.

But what I did not foresee was the reaction of Molefi Oliphant.

Sauntering up to me afterwards, the president of the South African Football Association (SAFA) at the time - who ought to know the state of play - found my question “interesting” and was also looking forward to getting an answer himself!

Five years on, it was an apt reflection of a divided SAFA house that managed to successfully unite for the country’s World Cup cause but has been subsequently hobbled by the fierce personal rivalries amongst its mandarins.

The dramatic turn of events at last Saturday’s SAFA presidential election, where Khoza and Jordaan, the frontrunners, pulled out, does little to change the outside view that FIFA may be compelled to save the South Africans from themselves and commandeer the final round of preparations for the World Cup.

It was a grave error of judgement for Jordaan and Khoza, who ought to concentrate on the huge responsibility of organising the 2010 World Cup, to be sidetracked by a quest to achieve a personal ambition at the expense of achieving a higher goal.

Jordaan had made his desire to be SAFA boss quite clear to me during a one-on-one breakfast meeting we had, whilst in Lagos for this year’s CAF Congress.

The current debacle, which has seen the emergence of Kirsten Nematandani as the compromise choice for president, keeps both men on a collision course that will certainly worsen their poor personal and professional relations.

SAFA, which had been told by FIFA to postpone the presidential election, had the right to reject the request of the world governing body to postpone the election.

Adhering to statutes, even when it is inconvenient, is an admirable act that should be a lesson for other African football associations and federations with sit-tight leaders.

But SAFA’s statutes should have made it impossible for Khoza and Jordaan to seek the top job as long as they were managing the preparations for the World Cup.

Blatter, who in his office, admitted to me  - in December 2006 - that he insisted on Khoza and Jordaan working together, has his hands full to ensure the marriage of (in) convenience does not end up in a bitter divorce.

Only the near-flawless organisation of the World Cup, which should be an unforgettable experience - I hope - will be incontrovertible proof of that.

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