Long wait almost over for Jordaan's dream

JOHANNESBURG - When the first ball is kicked in an African World Cup finals on Friday at Johannesburg's Soccer City, Danny Jordaan will have a tear in his eye, a lump in his throat and a heart brimming with emotion.

For South Africa's World Cup chief, the opening match of the 2010 finals will represent the culmination of a 16-year-old dream and a determined crusade to bring the world's greatest single sporting event to the African continent.

Jordaan, the 58-year-old former lecturer and anti-apartheid campaigner, told Reuters in an interview he could hardly believe his exhausting struggle was nearly over.

"It is incredible to think that we can now talk about the World Cup on Friday, in this week," he said.

"It has been a long road, 16 years, and now in a few days it's kick-off. We delivered whatever we promised. Our stadiums are ready, the airports, the speed train, the Gautrain, is on track and running, and just everything is in place.

"So it is with a great sense of satisfaction and achievement that we look forward to Friday."

PUBLIC FACE

Jordaan, who has been both the public face and the private inspiration of South Africa's World Cup bid, said the greatest disappointment of his campaign was when FIFA's executive chose Germany to host the 2006 finals, defeating South Africa by a solitary vote.

But Jordaan refused to give up and resolved to fight on, successfully persuading FIFA that it was finally Africa's turn in 2010.

For Jordaan, Friday marks one of the greatest points in South Africa's history and he sees it alongside the freeing of Nelson Mandela and the first free elections, two other landmark events he also personally witnessed.

"It's a dream come true, it's like the day that we thought of going to the polls to vote for the first time, or the day we waited for the prison doors to open and Mandela to walk out," he said. "These are defining moments in our history.

"The FIFA World Cup - over an 80-year period the world said that no African country could deliver this event, that it was a mistake to give the opportunity to South Africa, that we had better back up the decision with a plan B.

"And now we are standing with all of those things dismissed, and the doubters now are the believers."

Jordaan himself has no doubts that South Africa will rise to the occasion and produce a tournament to savour and remember.

"The spirit of African people is to meet people, be warm, embracing, welcoming, and celebrating, and I think this is an opportunity for the world to discover who we really are as South Africans and Africans.

"And I think that the world will be surprised that the passion for football, the energy it generates, the hope that it unleashes in the people, all of those things people will see."

DIVIDED PAST

Because he is a believer, Jordaan dreams too that the World Cup will be a significant catalyst in changing South Africa's future.

"We have already seen the impact on the South African people," he said. "We come from a divided past and we want to have a united non-racial and democratic non-sexist future.

Even if it was entrenched in the constitution in 1994, the constitution in itself does not deliver an integrated society, it just expresses the legal framework for such a society.

"But you still need to create it. And I think that this World Cup will take us in a significant way towards that future."

Follow FFT.com on Twitter Join FFT.com on Facebook