Forgive the in-your-face red-top tabloid headline, but a sensational story requires a sensationalist telling. Like I said in my previous post, the unveiling ceremony was heaving with football glitterati, but if you look at the picture, you’ll see that the African politerati were there. (Do you like the “-rati” theme?) Alpha Oumar Konare, Chariman of the AU Commision, Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, and Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa.
The event was organised by the South African LOC, and it’s obvious that they were trying to stress that SA 2010 will be a decidedly African affair. Hence they trotted out the who’s who of African politics today. There should have been a concert later in the evening which would have been graced by Madiba (via satellite link), but the concert was called off due to a freak storm. Wyclef Jean, Youssou N’Dour, Sean Paul and a few others would have performed. I was gutted personally, because it would have been my one opportunity to be starstruck. I would have grabbed Wyclef by the leg, and not let go, until some burly bodyguards shot me with a taser gun. Good thing the heavens opened up and saved him.
Sepp Blatter. The Twit. Blatter’s introduction/speech was first. Blatter is a twit. I used to think that FIFA was the guardsman of football’s conscience, but after this World Cup, I’m forced to think again. During his speech he looked directly at Thabo Mbeki and said, “the market trusts Africa”. How does the market trust Africa? Well according to Blatter, “the contracts we have already signed are higher than the contracts for 2006 in Germany by about 25%”.
The BBC has done some calculations on the figures, and this puts SA already on £443m, while Germany secured contracts worth just £376m. I don’t have an MBA, and I’m not sure how he’s pulled this off. Several things don’t tally. The majority of the expenditure will be on transport, stadiums, and security. My worry is of personal safety and security in SA, but four years is a long time, so we'll see. South Africa has 4 times the area of Germany, but has half as many railway lines, and the same goes for paved roads. The GDP per capita of Germany is £18,409 while that of South Africa is £2,768. This automatically means that South Africans don’t have as much spending power as Germans. It isn’t cheaper to buy steel in South Africa than it is in other parts of the world. Labour costs for building railways and roads might be cheaper, but by no means cheap enough to compensate for the expense of commodities. How will the investors recoup their money? Surely they don’t expect to get everything back within the one month of the World Cup. Mbeki rejects the notion that his countrymen are too poor to make the World Cup in SA a success.
Blatter has also admitted that this World Cup was too commercial, evidenced by the truckloads of corporate spectators coming into the stadiums to watch games. FIFA will regain control of ticket allocation from 2010, as this year's was dealt with by the German LOC. Sponsors were allocated 16%, while corporate hospitality got 12%. Compare that to the mere 8% given to the teams playing. Teams such as England would have appreciated extra tickets when you consider that when England played Trinidad in Nuremberg, there were 70,000 fans in the city, and 70,000 in Frankfurt. FIFA will apparently reduce its corporate partnerships from 15 to 5 for 2010. Since the 5 partners for 2010 have coughed up more money than they did before, they will surely demand more power. In that case, one might as well give them the keys to Union Buildings in Pretoria. See what happened when Bavaria breweries tried ambush marketing. If Coke is one of the remaining partners, you’ll be looking at a situation where Pepsi would be banned from the airport as you land.
The condescending Blatter then went on about how the World Cup in Africa will be about “the drums” and “the music” in his annoying Swiss accent, shimmying for emphasis. And he kept referring to the dignitaries wives as “his woman”. “Kofi Annan and his woman”. His chauvinism is nothing new - in 2004, he said women footballers should play in "more feminine clothes." Imagine. I felt like getting up on stage and slapping his bald pate, but I wasn’t brave enough to withstand a potential Peter Tatchell from his minders.
Kofi Annan. The Diplomat. He delivered what was effectively his article in the International Herald Tribune of 9 June. Not terribly exciting, which might explain why he’s a diplomat. Unduly exciting a warring faction during disarmament talks couldn’t possibly be a good idea.
Issa Hayatou. The Disappointment. Like the embodiment of the disorganised CAF that he heads, didn’t have a speech ready. And this is the man, who’s about to oversee the greatest show on earth. He did okay winging it (in French), but on such an occasion, one cannot afford to slack. And he slack he did. Blatter even managed a sly dig at him, saying he had been CAF President since forever (1988).
Alpha Oumar Konare. The Orator. He was the most impressive of all. It is easy to see how this former president of Mali became AU Commision Chairman. Remove all negative connotations associated with demagoguery and you have Konare. His speech in French was buoyant, rousing, and emotive, all at once – a layered gateau of a speech.
Thabo Mbeki. The Statesman. The president promised that SA would host the best World Cup ever. This is no faint promise, but there were many journalists there, so he knows he’ll be quoted. However, in 2010, it’s likely that Jacob Zuma will be in his seat, taking all the heat. He was calm and assuring, and for me, possibly the clincher in convincing me that SA can do it.
On to the reason for the title of this post, if you’re still reading. After they gave their speeches, they was a question and answer session with journalists. The grandees were on stage answering questions, while the World Cup ambassadors (former players) were doing up close and personal interviews with cameras and mics shoved in their faces. The type of which I’ve become expert in the past month.
At this point a journalist has to choose what to do. Does he get a proper interview with the lesser mortals, such as the players? Or does he ignore the former players, raise his hand to ask the grandees a question which will have them quaking in their kaftans? Also considering that there might be too many hacks trying to ask questions, their turn may never come.
Here’s what we did. We talked to the players first. Since we’re doing television, exclusivity is important. One player talking to our camera is worth more than a public sit-down chinwag, where one can’t even tell where the questions are coming from because of the great media junket. After the grandees finished their an audience with, it was time for them to leave. At this point we stand in front of the stage, trying to get Mr Mbeki’s attention. Hopefully, he’ll thrown some words towards our way. But as he headed for the exit, his bodyguards set up suited, mobile ear-pieced rugby scrum around him. Nobody would touch Mr President. We kept getting shoved along as he walked, stopping to shake the odd hand. I tried to shout, “Mr President, Mr President”. “You’ve had your chance”, the bodyguard would bark.
We’d almost been squished like little moths, when I made a final attempt to get his attention. “Mr President, for Nigerian tv!” At which point he turned towards me, and I blurted out a question. For the life of me, I cannot remember what I asked him. It was all a blur. Thabo Mbeki then came to me, shook my hand, and gave me a lengthy answer (while still holding my hand). I said, “Thank you, Mr President.” “Thank you, my brother”, he smiled. And the scrum continued.
I felt like a billion rand. Still do. In that moment, when he stopped to grant me a few words, it felt like I was floating on something. The next time a mother faints when Bill Clinton kisses her baby, I’ll understand what she’s experienced. Thabo is no Bill, but power is an aphrodisiac, and when harnessed right, it could create supernovas. Afterwards, someone asked if I was related to Thabo Mbeki, because he'd given me so much attention. Well, we did go to the same university. But that wasn't it - he fancied me. That brief moment was a flirtation of sorts, and I was tooken.
The emblem. I like the emblem. It’s better than the one for this year. It is very organic, represents South Africa, Africa, football, and even more specifically, the vibrancy of African football. I spoke to a German woman at the launch who didn’t like the man, saying it was a default clichéd symbol used to depict Africa all the time. As far as she was concerned, if there was any time to avoid stereotypes, this was it. But the image transcends clichés. Rock art is as old as art itself, and South African heritage is connected to those early depictions of man. If the world didn’t already know that, now is their chance to learn. South Africa in 2010? It can happen.