Mr.Football savours World Cup reality

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JOHANNESBURG, June 8 – As the World Cup kicks off Friday in Johannesburg, Danny Jordaan will be forgiven a smile to himself from his front row seat a decade on from his darkest hour as South African football supremo.First as head of the bidding team and then as chief executive of the Local Organising Committee (LOC), no one has a better claim to be father of the 2010 tournament than the one-time footballer and lawmaker.

But the sense of achievement will be even stronger for Jordaan after South Africa controversially lost the right to stage the 2006 tournament by one vote.

The decision by New Zealand official Charlie Dempsey to defy instructions and abstain from voting in July 2000, which handed the 2006 tournament to Germany, prompted Jordaan to consider his future.

But after licking his wounds, the veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle re-entered the fray to bring the world’s biggest sporting event to its poorest continent for the first time.

"When we lost to Germany, I felt empty. But when we came back home, the unwavering spirit of the people who came to welcome us at the airport gave us hope and encouraged us to try again," said Jordaan.

"It’s been an incredible journey — a journey of hope, despair and then triumph."

Much of his time since South Africa were finally awarded the hosting rights six years ago has been spent fighting claims that the prize was premature.

He has had to battle complaints over the speed of stadium construction, shortages of transport and accommodation as well as assuage constant fears over levels of crime.

"They said we are going to run out of money, they were wrong," he said at a banquet last Friday.

"They said no one would buy tickets for this World Cup, they were wrong… They said people would be too afraid. They were wrong. The teams are arriving and the fans are arriving."

A former trade unionist, he has defended the right of construction workers to down tools during the building or renovation of the 10 host stadiums.

But he also defended FIFA’s insistance on the building of world class facilities where millions still live without running water and electricity. The majority of the stadiums have no permanent landlord for after the tournament.

Jordaan himself knows all too well what it is like to live without.

As a 16-year-old, his family was forcibly removed from their home in Port Elizabeth, the building bulldozed by the apartheid authorities after their neighbourhood had been declared an area for whites.

His school was also demolished but his perseverance took him to university where he joined the black consciousness movement led by Steve Biko, who was later to die in police custody.

He was a useful footballer but his first real job came as a teacher and lecturer before turning his focus to politics.

Jordaan was appointed chairman of the Port Elizabeth wing of the African National Congress in 1990, the year Nelson Mandela was freed from prison and began the talks which led to the first multi-racial elections four years later.

Jordaan was one of the ANC influx which entered parliament in 1994 and remained as a lawmaker until 1997.

While failing to leave much of a mark in parliament, he proved his mettle as a political operator by rising through the ranks of the South African Football Association (SAFA) as it was welcomed back into the international fold.

He was appointed SAFA chief executive in 1997 and then chosen to head up the first World Cup bid.

Now 59, his future after the tournament is still up in the air. But highly respected by FIFA, for whom he has worked as a marketing executive, it is hard to imagine him turning his back on the game he loves or indeed Africa.

As he told AFP once in an interview: "Clearly football represents hope, football represents joy, football represents achievement, football represents progress for many people on this continent.

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