Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

World Cup May Hand Mandela Shock Defeat

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

World Cup May Hand Mandela Shock Defeat

Article excerpt


NELSON MANDELA, increasingly frail at the age of 85, will step on a plane for Switzerland tomorrow in what is expected to be one of his last ambassadorial missions for South Africa.

With Nobel Peace prizewinner Archbishop Desmond Tutu at his side, the former President has one more historic goal to reach for his country - the 2010 World Cup - before settling down to a quieter life with his family.

Although South Africa are favourites to stage the tournament which FIFA president Sepp Blatter has promised to Africa for the first time, Mandela's flight to Zurich could still be in vain.

Standard Sport has learned that Morocco, backed by the influential French and Spanish, are staging a dramatic late rally to win Saturday's vote.

Insiders believe the poll of FIFA's 25-man executive committee could be as close as the vote for the 2006 World Cup four years ago when South Africa lost to Germany by just one vote.

Another close defeat would be a bitter blow for the South Africans who have been campaigning for a decade to bring either the Olympics or the World Cup finals to Africa for the first time.

Seven years ago, Mandela was in Lausanne, Switzerland to boost Cape Town's chances in the vote for the 2004 Olympics. Cape Town ran a solid campaign but lost out to Athens.

Since 1998 they have put all their energy into trying to get the World Cup, which would add [pounds sterling]250million to the economy and create more than 150,000 jobs - a massive boost to a country where unemployment is more than 30 per cent and poverty is rife.

Now they are closer than ever to winning after coming out on top in a FIFA technical report on the bidding countries which also include outsiders Egypt and Libya, as well as Morocco.

But the final vote is likely to be influenced more by political than technical factors. Blatter has broken new ground by bringing in a rotation policy which guarantees the finals to Africa. The 2010 fight has been been fierce.

The Moroccans, backed by former French international-turned-football politician Michel Platini and bankrolled by the country's royal family, are throwing millions at their fourth World Cup bid. They just lost out to the United States by one vote in the campaign for the 1994 tournament.

Crucially, the Moroccans have pledged to inject [pounds sterling]120m into a scheme to fight Africa's problems of ill-health, terrorism and despair through investment in sport.

They expect a 32-team World Cup to cost them [pounds sterling]225m to host and they would make [pounds sterling]160m from ticket sales.

But, more importantly, the finals would permanently raise Morocco's profile.

Although the technical report put Morocco behind Egypt in terms of infrastructure, sporting facilities and budget, the Moroccans have been lobbying FIFA hard behind the scenes. …

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