The Football Association team bidding to stage the 2018 World Cup must secure Africa's four votes or go the way of the embarrassingly unsuccessful 2006 campaign. That was the message here yesterday from one of the most accomplished and experienced of football politicians.
Danny Jordaan, who has been working on such bids for 15 years and is now chief executive of the local organising committee for next summer's finals, sat in the offices of the South African Football Association and delivered an impromptu lecture on the Realpolitik of international sport that was almost frightening in its unwitting cynicism. There was not a single mention of such matters as stadia, transport, accomodation and infrastructure; only of which members of the Fifa executive committee were likely to vote for which country. While conceding that England had "a good chance", his warning between the lines was that the naivety that let them down before could undermine their chances again.
The winners must convince a majority of the 24 ExCo members, comprising eight from Europe, four each from Africa and Asia, three each from South America and Concacaf and one from Oceania, plus the president Sepp Blatter. In the vote for 2006 England attracted only five votes in the first round and two in the second. "In 2011 there's an election of a Fifa president, so it's an interesting time and quite a lot of these things will have an impact," Jordaan said. "You make the bid in the context of the global football political environment. So if there are going to be changes in the Fifa executive and who's the Fifa president, then all those things comes into consideration for how you position yourself. In 1998 and again in 2002 there was a presidential election in Fifa and England put their money in both cases on the wrong horse, so I don't know whether you'll do it again. We [South Africa] of course took a different position and understood the international football politics in a slightly different way."
Specifically, Blatter promised a World Cup to Africa and so Africa gave him their support. The South Africans first had to suffer the desperate disappointment of losing the 2006 World Cup to Germany by one vote when the Oceania delegate suddenly abstained. Jordaan learnt from that and his advice to all bidders now is: "Play until the end. Don't sleep on the night before the vote! The difficulty will be in the first round. It's critical to survive that. Concacaf will probably support United States, South America will probably go with Spain and then you have Africa. Then you have Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini, those are critical. So it's very critical that England focus on the four votes on the African continent because that may very well take them through round one."
England recently named among their bid ambassadors no fewer than 11 prominent Africans familiar with English football, including the former Leeds captain Lucas Radebe, and current players Salomon Kalou, Kolo Toure and Kanu. Last month the bid leaders were criticised as "lightweight" by Jack Warner, a Fifa vice-president who as an ExCo member for Concacaf has a vote and considerable influence.
There has been criticism of the number of outright politicians involved, although the way Jordaan was speaking, as much political nous as possible will be useful. He also pointed out that the favourites - or the best bid - does not necessarily win and that there may even be a move in international sport away from the more established countries towards the developing world: "We've just seen Rio versus Chicago [for the 2016 Olympics]. The best team is not necessarily the winning team on match day. It's those things you must fine tune and in this environment there are a lot of factors."
Asked about strengths and weaknesses of the English bid he said: "I don't think I want to comment on that. These are discussions I'm quite happy to have with your bidding committee. I will share my views in a frank and open manner with them. They are working hard, doing their best. I think they have a good chance, that's my personal view."
All the bidders for 2018, who also include Russia, Australia and Qatar, will be represented at the draw on 4 December for next summer's finals. The organising committee have said that all the stadia will be ready in the next six weeks and Jordaan is predictably optimistic about the tournament. He did admit that fans travelling to games in some of the smaller cities would have to find accomodation elsewhere and be bussed in and out.
As to the legacy of the tournament - another vital aspect for any potential bidder - Jordaan said: 'The cash coming into the game from the World Cup will provide a basis not just for South Africa but for the whole Africa continent. Television becomes key, the new media platforms are key because I don't think African teams as a whole can sustain themselves by depending only on exports into Europe. That's one of the legacies I want to see. Others are infracture, including the airports, roads, hotels; nation-building is another, a country to come together. You know our past, we want to move together as a non-racial, democratic, non-sexist South Africa that embraces everybody. The World Cup will help us to do that. We know all of the negative perceptions out there about South Africa. But in 2009 alone we have had the British and Irish Lions, the ICC Trophy, the Indian Premier League, Confederations Cup, Manchester City out here and all these things went off without a single hitch."