You would never guess it to look at the elderly figure in the lobby of Berlin’s Intercontinental hotel, but if it wasn’t for Charles Dempsey we would probably all be preparing for a World Cup final in Cape Town or Johannesburg on Sunday, rather than Berlin.
Six years ago, the decision by Dempsey, then president of the Oceania Football Confederation, to abstain in a vote to determine the 2006 hosts in effect handed victory to Germany over South Africa by a score of 12-11.
In an interview with the Financial Times in Germany, the Scottish-born Dempsey, 85, made clear he had no regrets, saying: “In the circumstances, I would do exactly the same again.” But he spelt out the pressure he came under as the high-stakes decision approached. England had also been a contender, but was eliminated before the final showdown, in spite of winning Dempsey’s backing.
“I was pressurised by both countries to vote for them and I decided not to vote,” he said. “It was not the football people. A lot of people on the side offered me money and trips and I took the advice not to vote. My lawyers said [that] . . . whoever loses out I would be accused of taking a bribe.”
He continued: “I got a letter . . . offering me rewards if I voted for Germany. On it was a phone number that I had to ring to connect me with someone else.
“I took the letter to David Will [a senior Fifa figure] and gave the letter to him.”
When Nelson Mandela rang, “I told him I didn’t know who I was voting for because there was so much going on. My phone was going all the time. I didn’t get to sleep that night at all.”
His abstention provoked considerable surprise, amid reports that, in failing to back South Africa in the crucial vote, he had not followed instructions given to him by his confederation.
In the interview, he acknowledged that “initially Oceania suggested I voted for [South] Africa”. However, when he told them about the pressure being brought to bear: “They said use your own discretion.”
South Africa’s disappointment was only temporary, since the country will stage the next World Cup in 2010. “I think the whole thing has turned out very well,” Dempsey concluded. “It has given them all the time in the world to prepare. South Africa now will have a great World Cup.”