The photo being used for this blog’s title picture was taken in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup in a small township outside Johannesburg called Mohklakeng. Football Federation Australia was, at the time, bidding to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup and thought it would create great publicity to deliver 9,000 “lap desks” to local school children. This was a good idea, which had benefit to the local kids, but provided nothing tangible for Australia’s World Cup bid.
I drove to Mohklakeng early in the morning and arrived at the same time a bus chartered by Football Federation Australia was shipping in Australian journalists to cover some kind of ceremony at a local school. The local population thought that the actual Australian team were coming to visit and laid on a frenzied welcome. They ran along the side of the bus carrying the journalists as if they were soccer heroes. The guy in the photo below was one of those welcoming us with vuvuzelas and a hairstyle to match the occasion.
Instead of the Socceroos, though, the locals got FFA Chairman Frank Lowy and his CEO Ben Buckley as well as Australia’s Minister for Sport Kate Ellis (and a bunch of desks). But the World Cup had at least visited Mohklakeng in some form. I wrote about the day for the Australian political website Crikey. You can read it here. The story was headlined “At the World Cup’s dawn, Australia’s own bid is in turmoil”. Australia’s best intentions for the day in Mohklakeng (oddly referred to as “Mohklakano” for some reason in the edited copy) were overrun by Asian Football Confederation President Mohammed Bin Hamman’s earlier comments that he would be backing a European host for 2018. Australia was left holding a lollipop.
I quoted Lowy and Buckley:
“Who said he is not supporting Australia?” Lowy said. “Okay, so he is not supporting 2018, but [he’s] supporting us for 2022.”
Buckley, however, revealed that Australia had no idea that Bin Hammam was going to announce Asia’s support for a European 2018 candidate.
“It was not a position that had been put forward to us prior to the meeting but it doesn’t change anything,” Buckley said.
I was criticized at the time for not taking the party line that Australia was clear favourite to win hosting rights for 2022. The criticism was no surprise. What’s surprising today is how on-the-mark I actually was with my hunch the Australian bid was falling apart so dramatically.
Frank Lowy left the event with an entourage that included an armed security detail. The guys with guns were British. As the man who once headed Fidel Castro’s personal security service once told me: “When you have a choice, never, ever, leave your personal safety to those who are not familiar with local conditions.” In other words, security is subjective. You might feel safe because you’re surrounded by guys with guns who behave like they know what they’re doing but that doesn’t mean you’re actually any safer than anyone else.
There’s a parallel with Lowy’s security detail and how the World Cup bid eventually panned out for Australia. But I’ll let you work that out.