Friday, June 16, 2006

The Tower of Personality...

The Cathedral of Cologne is noted for its twin spire towers. It took more than 600 years to build, what was for many years, the world's tallest building. However, Cologne has a third tower. It is its Lord Mayor.

So much of life is about attitude. I considered myself very fortunate to be assigned to Cologne as Head of FIFA's Delegation. I visited it during the Confederations' Cup and prior during the inspection. One city stood out above the others. That city was Cologne and it was due to the dynamic personality of its Lord Mayor Fritz Schramma, a "Thumbs Up" guy.

Our first meeting was during the inspection, and unlike many of the other sites we visited, Schramma took the leadership role in opening the meeting, clearly defining that he was a major part of bringing the World Cup to Cologne.

Right through to opening day, the Lord Mayor kept his upfront role and showed himself to be the perfect host as well. On our opening day in Cologne, we received invitations to City Hall on behalf of the City and the Regional government. It was scheduled at 1600 hours, with the invitation indicating a 2 hour window, which fit perfectly into our plans given that I needed to be in the stadium by 1900 hours. I elected to invite some of the FIFA delegation and added Cameroon World Cup Star Roger Milla to the group.

Well, from my earlier visit, I knew that Fritz Schramma was not only an smart politician, but a great football fan too. So, bringing Roger with me offered the proper perspective of football first and a homage to the Mayor for all the hard work he and the community put into being our host. The Mayor was clearly pleased as he introduced Roger to the couple of hundred local officials and guests gathered in the formal reception chamber of City Hall.

When we entered the hall, we were impressed by the formal staircase and stone walls, this day covered by flags and a stage set with a large Football backdrop and lecturn with a statute of a young footballer. Joining me for the visit was fellow FIFA Organizing Committee Member Ricardo Abuhomor, Conmebol Treasurer Romer Asuna, my friend George Tarantini and Mary Lynn helping to bring you this experience.

The Lord Mayor had earlier appeared from the staircase now lined with 32 young people each carrying a flag of the participating finalists. On stage was a corale group of talented singers who got right into the beat singing Oh Happy Day.

I was quickly alerted that in 1999 USA President Bill Clinton, in his visit to this same chamber in Cologne got up and sang with the chorus to this song and then took the saxophone from the 3-piece accompaniment and played with the group. I went into a quick panic, worried that somehow they had learned that I, like Clinton, had been a saxophonist as a young man. My rush of fear quickly dissipated when I realized they had no such expectations of Clinton's fellow New Yorker and just wanted to note a prior highlight.

The Lord Mayor's attention turned to having our delegation and those of the day's combatants, Portugal and Angola, sign the City's Golden Book. With pleasure I was first to take the pen and make my mark on the upper left portion of the page. Following me, each one had their turn. There was now an official record of our visit to City Hall, but the festivities were far from over.

The chorus broke into their rendition of Queen's "We are the Champions" and everyone in the room truly felt the possibility of walking away from the month to come with the sacred World Cup trophy.

During our original inspection tour in 2005, Lord Mayor Schramma presented me with the commemorative medal for the 2005 Cologne Carnival. Cologne, until now, has been better known for it Carnival than its football. Schramma proudly told me that I would once again be presented with the medallion, but this year's design featured the new stadium and the World Cup as an integral element. I humbly accepted the honor and as two bears hugged on staged, the clear friendship that has evolved was evident.

It was then my turn to thank the Regional and City governments for their hospitality and the work they had done on getting the Cologne venue ready for the World Cup. I was clear to express my gratitude and to let them all know that I considered myself the luckiest of my colleagues by having been assigned to this wonderful city.

It was very warm and there were others to be recognized, so I kept my comments short and moved off the podium.

A royal delegation from Ghana was brought to the stage and expressed their pleasure in being in Cologne for their upcoming match with the Czech Republic. The Lord Mayor kept the program flowing alternating between musical selections and spoken presentations. By the way, his entire presentation was done in perfect English.

You see, Cologne is part of a very modern commercial marketplace. It is a city that is a leader in conventions and business events. It is a city that understands the hospitality business and stay open at night with good food, good local beer and wonderful places to be able to get both.

Carnival, the single best know event happening in Cologne on an annual basis is full of fun and frivolity. Mayor Schramma wanted to make sure that I would be properly prepared for the festivities and presented me with a pair of red carnival sunglasses. I am not totally sure whether they are intended to cut down on the glare or protect others from seeing bloodshot eyes hidden beneath them. Schramma assured me that I looked like a very "cool cat" and once again, gave one of his famous "thumbs up".

The next hours would be spent at the stadium where Portugal and Angola would fight it out on the pitch and get their boots soiled on the battlefield of Cologne. In the VVIP are of the hospitality zone, the Mayor had played host to European Community President José Manuel Barroso who had come to see his native Portugal play.

As the Commissioner of that match, I had to finish my paperwork and was still around late enough to find Fritz Schramma unwinding with a friend in the lounge. The two of them had lit up some fine Cigars, and indeed deserved to relax with a nice drink as they reflected on arriving at the successful conclusion of their first match in their wonderful stadium.

Today was a dream come true. Congratulations Cologne. Congratulations Fritz. You both deserve a round of applause.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Not as contemporaneous as I would like...

As I started out on this "little" project, the intent was to simply share with you some of the unique experiences that I encounter at the World Cup in my role as a member of FIFA's Executive Committee. I intend to achieve that goal. But, bringing you these reports may not always be the same day, or even at times within a few days of the event happening.

First of all, this isn't news. Second, I am trying to support this by visual images as much as possible. Lastly, I will not include other people's offerings here, since it is my intention to share only my experiences with you and not those of others hundreds of kilometers away.

So, my friends, please be patient and don't throw things at me. I can then take off this silly helmet and try to give you some worthy insight into the workings of this event and the many people who are involved in seeing to it that it all happens.

Stories that are in the works and will be to you shortly are:
The Tower of Personality (a story about the Lord Mayor of Cologne); Our Opening Game (a Story about the Cologne opener - Portugal vs Angola); The Blues Brothers (a story about the USA team's loss to the Czech Republic); The "Sold Out" Alternative (a story about the Fan Fest way to see the games in Germany); and On the Road Again (my current road trip to the games in Hamburg and Hanover).

Keep checking in. I hope you will find it as interesting as it is to be here.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Game that Princes play...

Once upon a time in the Kingdom of FIFA there were two Princes: Prince Lennart and Prince Jack. Prince Lennart was stately and had been to the lists many times, while Prince Jack, finally of age, was now permitted through a series of preliminary jousts with lesser opponents, able to arrive this day on the pitch in Dortmund where their metal would be tested.

Prince Jack saw his quest as bringing dignity to his people and ultimately the recognition of his island nation as a real competitor in world sport. Don Quixote might well have launched a similar trek. The City of Dortmund hosted the armies of the Yellow from the north and those clad in Red from the sea. The expectations of most was that the armies of Prince Jack would be decimated when facing the formidable hosts of the older and confident Lennart.

The allies of Prince Jack from across the sea all hoped for a credible performance since the common reputations of all his neighbors were dependent on how well young Jack could defend the northern German outpost. Prince Jack is the leader of the smallest country ever to make it to the finals. The idea that it could fight with parity and come away, not only unbloody, but unbowed was beyond expectations.

Sir Leo of the Low-Land provided the army of Prince Jack with a new philosophy and tactic. He saw to it that they were physically prepared and ghosts of their past were nowhere to be found that day on the fields of Dortmund. Prince Lennart's warriors fought valiantly. Their side actually enjoyed a physical majority for half the battle. Nonetheless, a young knight, Shaka Hislop, experienced in the ways of King Arthur's court, stayed off the yellow dragon, beating it back throughout the almost 2 hour battle, while the Red Army's older Field General Yorke showed that he could live up to his potential.

Prince Lennart (pictured on the left) and Prince Jack (on the right) both sat intensely focused and prepared for any eventuality, each hoping for a goal while both dreading the same if piercing their own armor. For Prince Lennart, who almost became King in 1998 and is the Royal responsible for the organizing of the games in Germany this summer, would love to deliver a championship while under his watch.
Experiencing your army on the battlefield has a special rush which is only associated with total commiment and dedication; both Princes share that in common.

Today's victory would not come by defeating the opponent, but rather by surviving the great challenge from Prince Lennart's domain. The moment of success was realized by Princess Maureen, who exudes the total joy and happiness that pent up frustration turning to relief can uniquely create. She, along with her island nation would celebrate this day as a moment in history. The smallest country's first point in a World Cup Competition.

The two princes gallantly offer each other congratulations for surviving the day and know that both have the chance to move ahead, but it will not be without its challenges. For Prince Lennart, a bittersweet pill, never really expecting to be humiliated by the small island nation; while Prince Jack mentally scanned decades of sacrifice and losses to finally arrive at today's joyful celebration. The lingering question one has to ask... Was it worth it?

As I walked up the stairs with Prince Jack, the one thing I was certain this day was that he felt like a King.

Congratulations Jack, Maureen, all of my Trinidadian family that I love for these many years. It was a true joy to see so much pleasure come to you. I hope you can repeat this again and have even greater successes in the days to come.

We are all very proud of you.