Danny champion of the World Cup

2010-07-31 00:00

DANNY Jordaan (58) is kaput. Sixteen years of planning, preparing, building stadiums, and then four weeks of no sleep, attending matches, hoping nothing will go wrong. It’s enough to finish a man.

When it was all over, when the fireworks erupted over Soccer City after the closing ceremony, it was just like a balloon deflating.

“At that moment it was as if all my energy flowed from my body. That night my legs wouldn’t hold me up. When it was all over, the people still wanted to go and party. I said I would sleep for an hour and then join them, but they couldn’t wake me up.”

There, in the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton, the night after the close of SWC 2010 on 11 July, the man who headed up the World Cup slept soundly for the first time in ages.

No lying awake, wondering whether the electricity would stay on in the stadiums, or the cold would keep spectators away, or the rain would persist.

But one night is not enough to make up for 16 years of fatigue.

As he sits in his office in the Safa Building next to Soccer City, one can see the man is still drained of energy. He looks as if iron weights are dragging him down.

“I was hoping things would be better by now, but it looks as if it’s still going to take a long time before that happens,” he says, as he takes off his glasses and wipes his hand across his face.

Our interview is squeezed in between a string of meetings. When he walked in here a few minutes ago, about 10 people jumped up after waiting to see him.

That’s because WC 2010 may be over, but many other World Cup tournaments still lie ahead. And Jordaan has just been asked to become a part of Fifa’s inspection team to grade prospective host countries for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

Resting is not on the agenda — we’re talking about Danny Jordaan, remember.

Three moments have stood out above all others in his life.

“The day (former president Nelson) Mandela was released. We had been talking about it for so long, and then, the day it happened ... there he was, walking out. You don’t know how to process that.

“And then the day we went to vote in 1994.”

The third was the opening ceremony of the World Cup tournament in Soccer City outside Soweto.

“Look, we talked a lot about 11 June 2010. And here we were, in the stadium, and it was 11 June 2010. And Bafana Bafana runs on to the field and scores the first goal. It was just wonderful. A dream within a dream.”

No, he didn’t become emotional.

“Tears isn’t something I do a lot. I’m a man who gets through the desert. I conserve my water.”

And a desert it was. “Many times it was a lonely, difficult road. I asked myself many times why I should be the one sitting in this post. You know, out of nearly 50 million people.

“So yes, it was very hard. But when the hard days come, that’s when you have to vasbyt. You have to talk to yourself and say this thing is going to work.”

At many stages a lot of people said it was not going to work: South Africa would not be able to host a successful World Cup tournament. Eskom, crime, infrastructure. There was talk of a Plan B, that the tournament would be taken away from South Africa.

But Jordaan never stopped believing. “Never!” he repeats. “Uh-uh. No, I can’t think of a day that I wanted to give up. On 1 July 2008? I said, ‘Only God can take this World Cup away’.”

This was the headline the next day on the front page of the Daily Sun, “and I had that front page framed”.

Now he and the rest of South Africa can look back with pride on what World Cup 2010 meant for the country.

“If we look at what we’ve gained — our airports, the Gautrein, the roads, the bridges, the stadiums, the new hotels, the shopping centres; if you look at what has been built in the country over the past 10 years, then people have to stand back and say, ‘Yes, we achieved a lot’.”

A “new spirit” reigned in the country during WC 2010, says Jordaan. “And maybe it started when the Blue Bulls went to Soweto and discovered it’s going well here in Soweto. It was as if South Africans found South Africans, embraced one another.”

Jordaan has a history of political activism. Where he grew up in Port Elizabeth and studied at the University of the Western Cape he started fighting apartheid at a young age.

That is why WC 2010 was extra-special for him — not only because the sports side of it came together successfully, but because a nation came together.

“I suppose this is really what we’ve always wanted, what we wanted to see one day: equality, freedom in our country. That I can sit and chat to you like this. The World Cup was the pinnacle of that, then.”

Now the overwhelming feeling is one of relief. “I’m just very satisfied that we achieved what we had promised.”

But there’s also a curious emptiness accompanying this feeling.

“Yes, I think it’s a strange feeling, you know … To be talking about 2010 for 16 years and then suddenly it’s here, and then suddenly it’s over. One day.”

He attended 45 matches, saw every single team play, was at every single venue. And all without earplugs.

“No, I’m not deaf,” he smiles, his eyes screwing up. “I can still hear you.”

Few people know anything about his personal life, and he wants to keep it that way. All one can drag out of him is that he has a wife (they’ve been married for 29 years), that she is a minister in the Congregational Church, and that they have two children, both in their twenties.

To reward himself for all the hard work he’d love to go on holiday with them — “a long holiday.”

In the meantime he goes walking on the beach in Port Elizabeth, his home town, where they have a holiday home.

“That is how I relax, how I forget. Just walking on the beach, looking at the sea, reading.”

In seven years’ time he may have more time to do these things, because he has to retire at 65.

“I have to, I have to!”

In the meantime he is preparing for the new Fifa job.

“We had two bids and I know how difficult that is. Now I’m on the other side and playing referee. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity.”

He still doesn’t know the extent of the bonus he and his team will receive from Fifa for the success of SWC 2010.

“We haven’t closed the books yet. We still have to submit all the reports. You don’t sell the hide before the cow has been slaughtered.”

Meanwhile he can sleep peacefully, knowing that he headed up the “best World Cup ever”.

“It was a long, long journey and now it’s over.”

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