Osasu Obayiuwana: Jordaan wins – but faces a huge challenge

If “a week is a long time in politics”, as the oft-quoted remark of the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill reminds us, 202 days is certainly an eternity.

That’s the period between March 10, when Danny Jordaan lost a second successive bid to earn a seat on the executive committee of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and September 28 when he won, by a landslide, the South African Football Association (SAFA) presidential poll.

Failing to secure a spot on the CAF and FIFA executive committees in 2011, and withdrawing from the presidential race of the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) later that year, last week’s election was regarded, by many observers, as the last throw of the political dice for the 62 year-old.

After earning deserved plaudits for the key role he played in ensuring South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 World Cup, as well as the efficient manner in which the tournament was subsequently organised, as the CEO of the Local Organising Committee, his ascension to the CAF and FIFA excos was seen as the next career step.

But what seemed logical – and desired – by the wider African football community, which felt Jordaan’s intellect and vision had earned him a much bigger role within the continent – clearly in desperate need of having its brightest and best at the very top of the administrative ladder, sadly has no truck with the majority of kingmakers – the FA presidents who have the all-important votes.

As CAF congresses remind us, time and time again, the demonstrable competence of a candidate for the executive committee is often not the deciding factor for who is elected to it (And if you have to ask me what the ‘factor’ is, you have clearly not been reading my columns!).

Jordaan’s clearly depressed mien, when I spoke with him in Morocco six months ago, as he was heading home, after another failed CAF exco bid, tempted me to think that one failure too many, in such a short time, could lead him to dramatically end his political career.

Success at the Helderfontein Estate, in the Johannesburg suburb of Midrand, where he resoundingly beat Mandla Mazibuko, by a 74 vote margin (162 votes to 88) has firmly ended that possibility.

“After all that has happened to me on the continent, I realised that I had to sort things out at home first,” Jordaan told me from Cairo, where he had gone to attend CAF committee meetings, which took place ahead of the SAFA poll.

Last Saturday’s election has, at least for now, brought an end to the shadow that loomed large over the South African game, as a result of the unfinished business from the 2009 SAFA presidential poll.

Jordaan and arch-rival Irvin Khoza, now chairman of the country’s Premier Soccer League (PSL), were forced to abandon their bitter fight for the presidency, as a result of the primary responsibilities that both men had, to deliver a successful World Cup tournament.

That cleared the pathway for Kirsten Nematandani, who was in Jordaan’s political camp, the ‘Transformation Group’, to take the helm, based on an assumed understanding that with the organisation of the World Cup long out of the way by this year, Jordaan would have a clear crack at the job.

But the decision of Nematandani, to seek a second term, threw a spanner in the works and forced a parting of the ways with Jordaan.

Whilst coming across as an amiable, pleasant person, the inability of Nematandani to get the backing of a single electoral region for his second term bid indicated he had not built a support base, nor had he convinced SAFA electors that his track record had earned him four more years in the post.

SAFA’s declared losses of R54.4 million (about $5.4 million) in the last financial year, reduced earnings from their major sponsors, being caught up in a messy international match-fixing scandal – which came to light with just weeks to the start of the last Africa Cup of Nations finals – in addition to a painful elimination from the qualifying race for the 2014 World Cup, was a lethal cocktail that did no favours to Nematandani’s ambitions.

South African football’s current state is a far cry from the commercial success of the World Cup finals, staged three years ago.

Now having his hands on the administrative levers, restoring financial health, as well as repairing the battered credibility of an association, largely viewed with suspicion by a sceptical South African public, is the primary task for Jordaan.

“Let us fix SAFA… the challenge for all of us is the development and reconstruction of South African football,” he said, during a post-election address to the staff, clearly an acknowledgement that the organisation, of which he was an immediate past vice-president, needs a thorough clean-up.

Jordaan’s ability to hold on to his hard-won reputation, as a competent administrator, will be tested by his ability to steer SAFA’s ship to calmer waters.

John Kenneth Galbraith, the late American economist, remarked that “Great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront, unequivocally, the major anxiety of their people in their time.”

Galbraith certainly did not have the finances of SAFA, the health of the domestic league or Bafana-Bafana, the national team, in mind.

But Jordaan would be well served by taking Galbraith’s remark to heart.

Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him at moc.l1634534314labto1634534314ofdlr1634534314owedi1634534314sni@a1634534314nawui1634534314yabo.1634534314usaso1634534314

Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force.