Just This Once, The World Shares Blatters' Dream

As I wrote yesterday, they're not exactly wild about Sepp Blatter down the in the RSA.

But then, pretty much nobody else outside of the tightly knit circle of collaborators which runs World Football thinks much of the old sleazeball either, so they're in good company.

Which, in an odd kind of a way, may be part of the reason for his latest problem, one which seems to be causing him more anxiety than anything else related to this tournament, ie:

Whither Nelson Mandela?

You may recall that Blatter was roundly booed by the crowds in South Korea, an event which was duplicated four years later in Germany.

And for a man who feels his legacy is to be a universally beloved symbol of humanity and the purity of sport (pause for gagging) and whose main motivation for seeking a fourth term later this year almost certainly stems from his current lack of a Nobel Peace Prize, having 80,000 people giving him the raspberries on a TV broadcast beamed to every corner of the globe, this is - to say the least - an embarrassment.

Blatter has been publicly fussing and fretting over whether Mandela will be at the opening and closing ceremonies for months now. He says, and rightly so, that to a large extent this is Madibas' tournament and it would be a shame if he were unable to be there.

But for as long as Blatter has been saying this, the great mans' family has been telling anyone who will listen that the ex-President is almost 92 years old and is very frail and in poor health and there is NO CHANCE that he'll be able to be at Soccer City in Joburg next Friday.

As his grandson put it: "he can barely walk".

Of course there's also something of a payback involved here by Mandelas' family. They felt that FIFA trotted him around like a party pony for months prior to the vote which gave SA the tournament.

Indeed, one of the more contemptible acts of the utterly contemptible Jack Warner (the man Sunil Gulati wholeheartedly supports) was when, on the eve of the vote, the Serial Kleptomaniac announced - sitting in a five star hotel in Switzerland - that he needed "more convincing" and that the only person who could do it was Mandela himself, a ludicrous contention if ever there was one.

Problem was, Madiba was at home having a health crisis and his physicians ordered him not to fly. But getting the tournament for his country was so important to him that he got on a plane somehow, flew to Zurich, kissed Warners' ass and all was well again.

Except that his family was furious and they've never forgiven FIFA for risking the life of Nelson Mandela so they could have another photo op.

(Warner got a partial payback a couple of years ago when, during a heated T&T election campaign, he suddenly jetted off to SA to "consult" with Mandela as a political stunt. Jack showed up at the door and the Mandela family refused to even open it, instead sending out a note via a servant that Madiba was not accepting visitors).

Some people suggest that Blatter feels that if he's standing there next to one of the greatest men of our time and a man utterly beloved by his countrymen that people aren't going to bother booing him.

Which might indeed be true because, frankly, if Nelson Mandela appears in that stadium - which could quite possibly be his last public appearance ever - the place will go quite literally insane.

And stay there.

Not only will nobody notice Blatter but, more than likely, not much of anyone will notice the game, either. Instead, we'll see a 90 minute outpouring of love the likes of which we may never see again on this Earth.

Which is, of course, exactly what Blatter is hoping for. To hell with soccer, he wants history.

So it was huge news on Wednesday when the SA Minister of Sport announced that the Mandela family had "demanded" tickets so that Madiba could attend the opening ceremony.

It came as a bolt from the blue as everyone had pretty much given up on it happening. The ruling ANC (Mandelas' party) followed with an announcement of their own, reiterating that Mandela would be there.

I only have one question about that tale, and it can be stated in one word followed by a punctuation mark:

Tickets?

As in, "Boy, I hope they were able to still get the old fellow some decent seats. Maybe on an aisle, not too far from the Men's Room. You know old men and their bladders. Plus if it's not too much of a hike to a beer stand that would be cool too. I'm sure the old boy would love getting in the queue for a cold one."?

As in "Why no, Mr. Mandela, we don't seem to see your name on the Will Call list. Could you spell that again please?"

To paraphrase the Federales: He don't need no stinking ticket.

(There's also a persistent rumor that Barack Obama will show up. I doubt if that's going to happen either, but anything is possible. However that may be there's not much chance of him having to turn to Shelly and say "Gosh, Hunny Buns, I guess I didn't call soon enough and they say they're all sold out. Hope the kids aren't too disappointed")

Point being, some people really, really don't need to worry about tickets. Nelson Mandela in South Africa - or anywhere else on the face of the Earth - would be extremely high up on that list.

So while it's entirely possible that some people from the Mandela clan asked for some ducats I don't think they'd be for Madiba any more than for Sepp Blatter or President Zuma.

Late yesterday, more stories hit the wires carrying headlines like: "Blatter says Mandela will attend opening ceremony". It seems incredible that so few copy editors actually read the quotes, which say that during a brief visit with the great man a day or two ago, Mandela told Sepp that he "wants to go".

I don't think there's much doubt of that. He's give anything to be able to attend. Nobody doubts that.

But being physically caable is something else entirely.

Yesterday, Mandela received the entire Bafana Bafana team in his home. He was wearing a team shirt with the captains' number 4. Strong, proud men openly wept.

But his foundation refused comment on the media reports about his possible attendance, SAYING THAT "The Nelson Mandela Foundation does not disclose Mr Mandela's schedule in public for security reasons".

Then today HIS GRANDSON AND FAMILY SPOKESMAN Mandla Mandela responded to the press and seemed unequivocal if not a little annoyed:

“I, as a member of the family, together with the family, have taken the decision that my grandfather is 92 years, it would be really a challenge to take him out in a cold winter day to go and watch a game of football. We, as South Africans and the international community need to start considering his health. I really know that he’ll not be at the opening match.”

Which would seem to put an end to the questions, except that almost immediately afterward Blatter told some reporters:

It is fantastic that Madiba will be there at Soccer City in person to witness what he set out to achieve

Asked for comment Mandla Mandela said, in a statement which just oozes with all the warm feelings they have for FIFA:

“I don’t know where they take that from.”

“We, as a family, are independent. We don’t have any member serving at Fifa or having any position at Fifa.... We have no role in their tournament as far as being obliged to be there.”

So is the Mandela family simply being realistic, or are they waiting until the last minute to see if Madiba is up to it that day? Impossible to say.

Offhand, you'd have to guess that Mandela won't be there. All of us are eventually forced to succumb to the ravages of time and age. Even the greatest among us.

But - just for a second - we can have at least one thought, one dream, in common with Sepp Blatter, the entire nation of South Africa and, indeed, virtually everyone else on the planet:

Wouldn't it be grand to see him there?