Pressing Issues: Could Charles Dempsey be a saint who was vilified for doing right?

2015-05-31 15:51
S’Busiso Mseleku (File)

The first time I bumped into Charles John Dempsey was at one of the matches during the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany.

The Fifa executive committee member and former Oceania Football Confederation president was sporting his trademark fixed grin.

I walked up to him with mixed emotions, introduced myself and, just for good measure, mentioned I was a South African journalist.

I walked away with a sense of pride, feeling I had somehow touched his conscience about what he had done to Alan Paton’s beloved country.

Just in case you might have forgotten, Dempsey was at some stage regarded as South Africa’s public enemy number one.

This was after he abstained from voting for the hosts of the 2006 Fifa World Cup – a decision that resulted in Germany pipping South Africa to the post by 12 to 11 votes.

The outcome caused the biggest outcry in the then close to 100-year history of the event.

Well, that was before the latest saga about the Russian and Qatari World Cups. But that’s a story for another day.

At the time, Dempsey claimed he did not vote because of the “intolerable pressure” from supporters of the German and South African bids.

There were also claims that Dempsey had said there were attempts to bribe him, which he later denied, saying it was Fifa who had said that and not him.

In an interview with the BBC at the time, Dempsey said: “The night before the Fifa meeting I received a number of calls which disturbed me; one of them was a threatening call.

“It had also been made clear to me by influential European interests that, if I cast my vote in favour of South Africa there would be adverse effects for the Oceania Football Confederation in Fifa.

“I believe that decision was in the best interest of football and in particular those of the confederation.”

Dempsey went further and said “a pressure phone conversation with former South African president Nelson Mandela” was among a number of calls he had received.

His abstention was unprecedented in the organisation’s history and the revelations that his confederation had given him a clear mandate to vote for South Africa caused the outcry to grow a few decibels higher.

Dempsey denied this but those both within and close to the confederation insisted that it was the case.

This week’s developments – which saw a number of Fifa officials being arrested on charges of corruption – got me thinking.

The report by US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch noted that “at least one Fifa executive served as Concacaf president without pay; there was little altruism involved, as he alone is alleged to have taken more than $10 million in bribes over a 19-year period”.

Hmm, 19 years. Wait a minute! Could Dempsey have been right all along?

Could this mean that he was just somebody whose conscience would not allow him to do wrong, leading him to abstain from voting rather than get his hands dirty by participating in a sham?

Is this whole Fifa-voting-for-the-hosts-of-the-World Cup thing a scam?

Maybe Dempsey is looking at us from wherever he is with that trademark fixed grin and saying: “I told you so.”

And this, for me, is a good reason to call for the German 2006 World Cup to be investigated too.

A 2009 media report on his death was titled Charles Dempsey ‘leaves a great legacy’ – it might have been created with irony but may now prove to be on the money.

Dempsey might just have left a real legacy of honesty.

Damn death! Now we will never know.

I wonder what his widow, Anne, and his daughters, Josephine and Alice, are saying now about the man who was born in Maryhill, Scotland, in 1922, migrated to New Zealand in 1952 and under whose leadership New Zealand reached their first World Cup in 1982.

 Follow me on Twitter @SBu_Mseleku

Read more on:    fifa

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