Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Football fever, Mandela and Jack Warner

During his Trinidad trip to win Jack Warner's votes in 2004, Mandela presented an award to Digicel's then CEO Seamus Lunch. At left is Dr Danny Jordaan, who led South Africa's vigorous campaign.

Jamaica Observer | excerpt from Jean Lowrie-Chin's Column

If there was a time that Jamaica needed to catch a fever, it is right now. Football fever, that is. As we allow it to seize hold of us, we hark back to that time when South Africa's bid as host country of the 2010 World Cup hung in the balance.

It was May 2004 and a group of us travelled with great expectation to Grenada in the hope of seeing Nelson Mandela. We were on assignment for the launch of the Digicel Caribbean Cup and had been told that Jack Warner had organised for the great Mandela to attend. In fact, Mr Mandela had journeyed to Trinidad to court Warner, the powerful head of the Caribbean and Central American Football Confederation (CONCACAF), and FIFA vice-president.

Yes, Nelson Mandela made his last trip to the Western Hemisphere to garner four crucial votes controlled by Jack Warner, as South Africa vied with Morocco and Egypt for that watershed moment in the history of favoured nations: the hosting of

"the greatest show on earth", the World Cup. South Africa's triumph was announced by FIFA President Sepp Blatter on May 15 in Zurich.

In a dramatic account by Mihir Bose published in the UK Telegraph on May 17, 2004, we learn about the efforts by Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu to sway Warner whom it was said had been favouring Morocco in the six months leading up to the vote.

When South Africa triumphed, Bose wrote, "In Zurich, Archbishop Desmond Tutu promised all of the FIFA executives first-class air tickets to heaven, as he danced a jig in front of Mandela who, despite being 85 and looking very frail, declared: 'I feel like a young man of 15'."

But back to our expectant group in Grenada. By the time Nelson Mandela had made the social rounds in Trinidad, he and Archbishop Tutu were both too tired to fly to Grenada. Seeing our "15 minutes of fame" with Mandela fizzling out, I called Jack Warner asking for some form of a "make-good". The photograph on this page was emailed to me by Warner within minutes: he had arranged for Mandela to make a presentation to then Digicel CEO Seamus Lynch in Trinidad.

We left Grenada without seeing Mandela, but with a new respect for a Trinidadian named Jack Warner. Should he be allowed to continue as both Minister of Sports and FIFA VP? The man is "broader than Broadway" - if allowed to serve his country and the world, what synergies may flow.

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