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Daily Telegraph

SOUTH AFRICA won the right to stage the 2010 World Cup only through hectic lobbying during the last 48 hours before FIFA’s 24-man executive voted on Saturday. This turned certain defeat into a stunning victory.

The Telegraph can reveal that on Thursday the vote count was exactly the reverse of the final outcome: Morocco 14, South Africa 10. But helped by the personal intervention of Nelson Mandela and the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, a crucial block of four votes swung to South Africa, unleashing unprecedented scenes of joy in the Rainbow Nation.

In Zurich, Archbishop Desmond Tutu promised all the FIFA executive first-class air tickets to heaven as he danced a jig in front of Mandela who, despite being 85 and looking very frail, declared: “I feel like a young man of 15.”

The four votes were controlled by Jack Warner, a FIFA vice-president from Trinidad and head of CONCACAF, the federation representing north and central America and the Caribbean. They have three votes on the executive but Warner is also believed to have spoken for the solitary executive vote of Oceania.

Warner began his working life teacher in Port of Spain, but through his involvement with international football he and his family are believed to have amassed a personal fortune of around £30 million.

Four years ago Warner was a key player promoting South Africa’s bid to stage the 2006 World Cup. The attempt failed by one vote, with Germany winning thanks to the abstention of Charles Dempsey, the Scottish-born FIFA member from New Zealand.

Warner was expected to be another key supporter but some time last year he turned cold on South Africa, refusing even to return calls. In the last six months on two FIFA occasions, the Congress at Doha last October and the executive committee meeting in London in February, he made no secret of his opposition to the South Africa bid, giving a strong indication to me that his group would vote for Morocco.

In Zurich, while the rest of the FIFA executive members were in one hotel, Warner was based in the same hotel as the Moroccans. On Thursday the Moroccans were predicting victory, confident they had 14 votes.

On Friday morning Mbeki and Mandela flew to Zurich. At around 8am Warner, accompanied by Chuck Blazer, the FIFA executive member from the United States, met the South Africans in their third-floor suite. Whatever was said, Warner’s mood when he emerged was very different.

I saw him as he left and asked how the vote would go. He said: “Who knows, anything can happen.” Then he gave a big smile. It was clear the anger he had previously shown towards South Africa had dissipated.

FIFA votes for World Cups are notorious for their unpredictability. Whatever influence the Moroccans felt they had exerted had clearly been cancelled by the intervention from Mandela and Mbeki.

Warner was also under pressure from FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who was keen on South Africa, and he was also visited in his hotel room by Abedi Pele, a former Ghana international who campaigned for South Africa, and Danny Jordaan, the South Africa bid leader.

Meanwhile, in other hotel rooms there was a meeting of the four executive members from Africa, with Ismail Bhamjee, the FIFA member from Botswana, under pressure to vote for Morocco. He resisted and was the only one from Africa to vote for South Africa.

Even on Saturday morning the outcome was still in doubt. The South Africans had decided that they could not let Mandela be publicly humiliated. He would go to the World Trade Centre in downtown Zurich, where the result was to be announced, only if it was certain South Africa would win. At 11.30am, 30 minutes before the result was due, Mandela was still in his hotel.

FIFA, determined to keep the result secret, had confiscated the mobile phones of the executive members. The vote had been taken by 9.50am but only a few FIFA officials knew the result, and Blatter was not among them.

At 11.30am the South Africans finally found out and Mandela set off, delaying the announcement by a few minutes. At lunchtime, as South Africans held a celebratory buffet, Blazer sat next to Mandela and South Africans raised a glass to the American.

By then the South Africans were in heaven.

HOW THE VOTE WENT

S Africa

Morocco Egypt
Europe 4 4 0
Asia 1 3 0
Africa 1 3 0
S America 3 0 0
Concacaf 3 0 0
Oceania 1 0 0
Blatter 1 0 0
Total 14 10 0

      

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