Paul reflects on giving back as Qatar beckons

Safa’s outgoing acting chief executive, Russell Paul.Picture: Themba Makofane
Safa’s outgoing acting chief executive, Russell Paul.Picture: Themba Makofane

“If there’s something that sits in the in-tray that I feel I personally didn’t achieve, it is not being able to get out to the regions enough.”

This is how Safa’s outgoing acting chief executive, Russell Paul, reflected on his year-long spell in local football’s highest office.

Safa is made up of 52 regions and it is common knowledge that many of these structures are often beset by maladministration.

“The challenge that we faced was trying to stabilise the organisation to ensure that people on the ground – meaning in the regions –were playing. It is like a catch-22 situation, but I tried to stay in touch with the regions as best as possible. It’s the one thing that the new chief executive needs to do,” Paul (58) told City Press.

He was speaking shortly after Safa announced that he had been offered the post of chief operating officer of the Qatar 2022 Fifa World Cup organising committee.

Paul has been replaced by Safa vice-president Gay Mokoena, who will hold the reins for three months until a permanent replacement has been found.

With regard to projects he has been involved in that are still on the boil, Paul pointed to the processes required as part of Safa’s bid to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

“The president [Safa boss Danny Jordaan] and the national executive committee will move forward with government and come up with a solution. Our bid book needs to be some time in December, so there’s not much time in this regard,” said Paul.

“South Africa hosting the tournament will be a major achievement as it will be a huge boost for women’s football locally, especially with the added hope that corporates will jump in with sponsorship. We also want to be counted among those few nations that have hosted the men’s and women’s World Cup.”

Paul recalled how difficult it was for him at first to relocate from his home in Cape Town to Johannesburg in 2008. Still, the father of six regarded the move as “an opportunity that you wouldn’t miss” for anything when Jordaan lured him to join the 2010 Fifa World Cup organising committee.

Paul has gone on to become one of the most sought-after administrators in the sector, particularly when it comes to the organisation of major events.

He is credited by his colleagues for helping to stabilise Safa since taking over from Dennis Mumble, who left the federation in September last year.

I am just an individual who likes to give back and make a contribution to the game at every level. I play hard, but at the same time I work very hard. But it’s not about me as an individual, it’s about a team
Russell Paul

Among his highlights, Paul listed these: helping Safa to regain the confidence of sponsors; concluding the broadcast deal with the SABC; launching the national women’s league; and seeing all the national teams qualify for their respective major tournaments.

“I am just an individual who likes to give back and make a contribution to the game at every level. I play hard, but at the same time I work very hard. But it’s not about me as an individual, it’s about a team,” said Paul.

He recalled “some good times” playing alongside Bafana Bafana goalkeeper coach André Arendse and Bidvest Wits head coach Gavin Hunt in the Cape.

“I played senior football when I was about 14 years old. And then in the early 1980s I played for a club in Cape Town called Lansdowne FC. But at the start of national unity [in the early 1990s], we all got involved and I became the club’s secretary and chairperson. I also ended up as chairperson and vice-president of the Cape district. I was also president there for a while.”

Bitten by the administrative bug, Paul went from being secretary of the Western Province Soccer Association – now called Safa Western Province – to being its president.

“I believe I paid my dues in a political environment. It’s not about being lost to the sport. At some point in time, you’ll continue giving back to the sport.”

Looking ahead to his new job in Qatar, Paul said: “This is not about the individual, it’s about the fact that the country is recognised. As a South African and an African, one can only be proud, and I can’t really say I am a loss to South African football.

“As one of us leaves to make a contribution elsewhere, somebody else will step in. We have multitudes of administrators here.”

Paul has a valuable tip for his successor: “When you are in that position, you need to understand that you’re the servant of 3.2 million players and you’re trying to deal with another 57 million people who want to see the results.”

As a parting shot, Paul said that exciting announcements were imminent regarding sponsorship within Safa.

“Watch this space,” he smiled.

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