Saturday, June 24, 2006

Allons enfants de la Patrie...

The day started out with our typical morning meeting for the France vs Togo match. I had not expected to be here since my original plan was to sleep over in Nuremberg and take the train back arriving long after the meeting would have concluded. I had found a way, with the help of our drivers in Nuremberg, to rush me to the Munich Airport following the match where I could catch the 1 hour shuttle bringing me back to my colleagues in Cologne and on time to open the morning meeting.

Our group is getting good at being very much at home with the immense responsibility of putting on matches, with all the attendant risks, that go along with an elaborate process requiring many instant decisions. Following the England vs Sweden match, the featured match of our series, we were concerned that a little let down might occur. But, with the challenges of France and Togo, that wasn't going to happen. Not only did we have France, who were fighting for their World Cup life, but we were also planning for our first visit of our FIFA President, Joseph S. Blatter to our venue.

At 1915 hours, Romer Asuna and I left the Hyatt Hotel with a caravan of vehicles to head to the Cologne/Bonn Airport to await the arrival of President Blatter. He traveled with four staff members and arrived about 15 minutes later than scheduled. I rode with him to the stadium in his Hyundai Centennial Black formal sedan. We chatted about the overall event; the excellent press coverage and the near perfect quality of the World Cup. Overall, the President was more relaxed than I have seen him lately and bouyed by the positive reception he would find in Cologne we arrived at the stadium at 2045 hours.

As we arrived on the elevator rising from the parking garage, the Lord Mayor of the City of Cologne, Fritz Schramma greeted the FIFA President with the City's good wishes and presented him with a momento of his visit. With only 15 minutes before the match, we decided to go directly to the seats. The President made himself comfortable accompanied by FIFA Vice President Issa Hayatou in the center of the Tribune. The President, while maintaining his neutrality, is Swiss and therefore had a more than passing interest in the results of match in Cologne (with Switzerland sharing the group with France and South Korea, still alive as the day began).

For France, tonight was do or die. The performances that carried them this far would no longer be good enough if there was to be a tomorrow for this valuable collection of players, yet to show themselves as a team.

In the stands, the French brain-trust of the Minister of Youth Affairs, Sports and Associative Life Jean-François Lamour, the President of the French Football Federation Jean-Pierre Escalettes, and FIFA Executive Committee Member Michel Platini, contemplated the frustration of the first half of play as the remainder of the game began. It wasn't long before Patrick Vieira, celebrating his birthday, became the man of the match and the owner of the match's winning goal.

We retired to the VVIP lounge to unwind after the game. I convinced the President to use the big tables we had set up in the area reserved for the organizers and to abandon the private hospitality box which had been set aside for him which made a cocoon seem large. Blatter and Platini chatted as friends and well wishers stopped by to congratulate them on the success of their countrymen.

The President and his entourage sped off to the airport for their private jet destined for Templehof Airport and a good night's sleep in Berlin in the knowledge that Switzerland had finished first in their group and would be in Cologne to face the Ukraine on Monday.

FFF General Secretary Jacques Lambert, who as the Executive Director of the 1998 FIFA World Cup France, knew exactly what we were all facing as we concluded the last matches of the first round of games, joined us in the lounge. We spent the next half hour tasting the desserts and watching Platini graciously autographing tickets and programs, while posing for dozens of photos with fans who came by.

Finally, it was time to leave and as we exited the elevator at the parking garage level, one last photo opportunity of the night presented itself. A relieved Platini and Zidane, who would yet have another opportunity to play against Spain in Hanover on Tuesday, 27 June, were kind enough to pose for this picture. Thanks to you both and bonne chance avec l'Espagne.

We surprised ourselves...

The strength of the organizational success of this 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany has been the ability of the LOC (Local Organizing Committee) and the FIFA Venue Delegations to work together in what appears a seamlees effort of common purpose and achievement. In recognition of those efforts, it was my pleasure to invite department heads of each discipline in both groups to a festive dinner at one of Cologne's fine eating and wine establishments. This wine cellar was two floor below street level and was nicely decorated and ready for the four tables of very properly dressed officials.

As the guests, Karl-Josef Tanas, LOC Venue Chairman, spoke first. His speech touched on all the right topics acknowledging their counterparts on our side who worked with them in achieving our local success. Then he said something quite extraordinary. He admitted that when the LOC adopted the slogan "A time to make friends", he was quite nervous about it. He didn't feel that what they were being called to do was instinctly in their nature. He said that the greatest accomplishment of the World Cup was how the German people adopted this slogan and actually have lived it throughout the event. For him, he was proudest of the profound impact that the World Cup has made on Germany in being a host and for people, throughout the society, not just the ones involved in the production of the event, but everyone in the shops, the streets, the trains, the airports... whereever you came into contact with people they had adopted the slogan as their own.

He was so correct. Every visitor I spoke to over these weeks couldn't stop praising the extraordinary warmth and welcome they had experienced at all levels throughout their time here. It seems too, that the epidemic of welcome wasn't just in this normally friendly city of Cologne, but had been the atmosphere all over the country.

The dinner was extrordinary with a choice of fish in a delicate cream sauce or a veal on a ragout with a dark wine sauce. The room that night was quite warm. As you will see from the pictures, for comfort we got rid of the formal jackets, but maintained our ties and our smiles. The rest of the evening was spent by exchanging presentations of commemorative gifts, asking the counterparts of the working departments to come up jointly and receive their momentos.

Yesterday, I was told by a staff member how much her Mom loved seeing her picture in this Blog. So, thanks to Mary Lynn, who took pictures of the tables and the presentations, and who has returned to New York for a few days to send her son off to summer camp, I will present to the extent that the software allows me, a montage of pictures from the dinner without editorial.

These are all great people and a wonderful team. It has really been a true pleasure on behalf of FIFA to have led this group in our venue. The decentralized operation of the World Cup in 12 venues in one country performs as well as it does because the staff and volunteers know their job and perform them admirably. This World Cup will be remembered as a standard to measure future ones due to the excellence of the performance of the people. People just like these.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The goals are big, but the ball doesn't go in...

The Nuremberg Mayor introduced me to U.S. Ambassador William R. Timken, Jr. and his wife Sue in the pre-game VVIP lounge. They were nice enough people, originally from Ohio and with a much better understanding of American Football than Soccer. We exchanged some pleasantries about the connections of American Football and Soccer, specifically our common friendship with Lamar Hunt. Beyond that the Ambassador did concede a general absence of familiarity with the game but that over the last eight months he came to understand the impact of FIFA and the World Cup.

I asked, as much to offer comfort as anything else, if they had any questions about the game. Sue came right out with it, and for the Americans, may go down as the quote of the day... "Since the Goals are sooooo big, how come the ball just doesn't seem to go in?" Well, other than a well hit ball by Clint Dempsey, the only goal scored by the U.S. team in World Cup 2006, they might be asking themselves that same question all the way back to the United States. Today's game ended a short run at trying to recapture the glory of 2002.

I responded to Mrs. Timken that there is more than shooting at an open goal from a static position. The game is about movement, about the other players who are working against your sending the ball home. It is all about pressure too. The pressure of carrying a label in a ranking system which unfairly sets intercontinental comparisons; pressure of needing to live up to a set of expectations based on previous performance and also the pressure of holding on to favorites in places where they no longer produce the results needed. There are many things which stop you from scoring goals.

On this day, Ghana, as it had in its upset match with the Czech Republic, proved that it was a team worthy to advance to the round of sixteen. Congratulations to them. To Mrs. Timken, it simply goes to prove that the game is not as easy as it seems. It isn't just about a big goal and a small ball. It is about the 22 men on the field and how they use that 90 minutes of the world's attention to become part of history.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Before the kick off in Nuremberg...

Upon arriving at the VVIP area in the Franken-Stadion Nuremberg, Bürgermeister Horst Förther greeted me. He made reference to my four previous visits to this lovely Olympic style stadium under his charge, set near the historic Centre Party Rally Grounds conceived by Albert Speer, where he commissioned films in the 30s that terrorized the world and forever sealed this lovely countryside on the psychies of generations.

By contrast to those films, Mayor Förther, born five years after the end of the war, is about the most gentle and refined person you could wish to meet. I remember him sitting with me on my first inspection visit. I told the mayor of the town which my Mother in Law, Gerda Hermanns had fled for her life as a young woman while so many family members had been left behind and did not survive. I told him of my family story and that it was my first visit to his city. He calmly refered to the criminals of that era in the third person. Expressed empathy with my feelings and sympathy for our loss.

I remember that made me think, that so often I was expected to share the guilt for those who enslaved an African continent and brought them to America in the early days of my country. I too could only relate to those people in the third person... they did terrible things; those men were demons; we aren't like them. So, I quickly understood the distancing from guilt for those men who were my age or younger; all born after the end of World War II.

I've had so many German friends before, but never personalized the Nazi or Holocaust experience. It only came home to me when walking the Parade Grounds and visiting the city where real members of the family I was married to for 29 years had suffered and shattered. Yet through the gentleness and kindness of a very fine man and mayor of this historic city, I came to appreciate the new Germany and I commend them for their vision of today and the future.

Tomorrow he is extending the courtesy of his office to a visit by my daughter and grandson, who have Nuremberg blood running in their veins and who will come to grips with their own roots. Thank you Horst. It is an honor to have met you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The kids are back in town...

Continental's non-stop from Newark to Cologne landed and a quartet of special World Cup revelers arrived in Germany ready to take it all in. Two were new to the competition, Dylan (who will be 2 in August) and Nicholas, who is enjoying his first football classic since joining the family. Marci, my eldest has been coming since 1986. Stuart, Marci's husband made it to Korea/Japan and now had a better idea on how to get around.

Their first game was the very exciting match between the Czech Republic and an insired Ghana team. It was end to end action.

My deputy Jason Hughes was there seated with Roger Milla. Like those two, the game had plenty to applaude. Other kids were there too. Accompanying Dr. and Mrs. Havelange was their granddaughter Joanna and her husband. My grandson, at the final whistle yelled out his dissatisfaction in these words... "More Soccer, More Soccer".

So, after a small break, we shifted from the Stadium in Cologne to a Fan Fest located at the base of Dom. The hotel had offered us their terrace that had a great view of the stage and screen specially constructed for the event. My group of mostly Americans wanted to see their home team in action against Italy.

The big screen at halftime was pushed back to make room for Carnival style costumes and dancers. I did a short interview as part of a promotion for the local government's wrap up of the World Cup and the City of Cologne. Most importantly, the game finished with the USA in a tie with Italy. One more day and the second flight of games would be finished and then it would be 2 pairs of games a day, with each group finishing simultaneously.

As we left, the only words came from my grandson... "More Soccer, More Soccer".

The British are coming.. the British are coming

If Paul Revere had lived in Cologne in 2006, his cry today would have been just the same as it was 231 years ago. For indeed, it was the beginning of a British invasion as their standard bearers came to defend the honor of England against Sweden.

Their advance party had been to our offices a couple of days ago and went through the special needs that their delegation thought we should be aware of prior to their arrival. I was pleasantly surprised to find that their needs were both sensible and reasonable.

The game is about as high profile as we could possibly expect. Lennart Johannson, UEFA President, FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee Chairman and FIFA Vice President arrived yesterday joining the multitude of Yellow and Blue clad fans already in town being hosted by major tour companies, including one with a big marquee in front of our hotel pumping rock music throughout the night for their good spirited fans.

The full acknowledgement of the hoards of englishmen expected in Cologne came with the announcement that an additional Fan Fest area, holding 35,000 with giant screens and audio in English was being constructed on the banks of the Rhine. For sure, we will have a party tonight in Cologne.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Volunteers Recognition Day...

What a delightful group of people. Volunteers really are special. They not only do the jobs that need to be done, but add flavor and personality, giving an event life.

On Sunday afternoon, just following the conclusion of the afternoon match, we gathered the Volunteers together at their center, which is a building just adjacent to the Stadium.

We were introduced in our respective roles to the volunteers. Next to me is Hugo Salcedo, the Venue Coordinator; then Ricardo Abumohor, Member of FIFA's World Cup Organizing Committee; Dennis Mumble, Deputy Venue Coordinator; and Romer Osuna, Treasurer of CONMEBOL and assigned to the venue for Special Tasks.

It was then my turn to let them know how much we appreciated the work they were doing and from my own personal perspcective, that they were the best bunch of volunteers I had worked with at any event. I also told them that we had put together some gifts for them to express our appreciation for what they have given us in these recent days. Ultimately, I would ask them to follow me outdoors where we can stage a group picture which would be emailed back to them as a fitting salute to their joint collaboration.

Ricardo and Romer get to spend a few minutes with a volunteer. In the meantime, the group assembled outside and began lining up for the big photo. In today's world a nice high resolution photo commemorating the day would be enough to put smiles on everyone's face.

The side of the compound had a small hill nearby which we hoped would give us the needed elevation levels to be able to see all the faces in the posed shot. We had slightly more people than we expected to show up, but the hill, while spilling over was able to accomodate everyone comfortably.
We tried the first photo from a second story window looking down at the crowd. Our Media Officer, Mark Gleeson, took my Canon EOS and carefully focused and took the picture to the right. The only thing he couldn't control was the shadow being cast by the building, erasing into darkness those too close to the front.

Mark headed downstairs, and finally turned over the camera to a colleague who shot us from ground level resulting in the picture at the top of the page. Finally, the "goody bags". Each bag had a combination of small items. All of them commemorative. Some had hats, some shirts, all were packed with gratitude also by wonderful volunteers.

There was time for some games too, and a contest was being held for those who knew the names of a dozen different players from their pictures; guessing the number of dried peas in a large bottle (I guessed 3,000); and some athletic games too.

I hope they know how much they are appreciated. I stayed for about an hour and was available for whomever wanted a one on one posed picture. This was a day for catching our breath in Cologne. England will arrive tomorrow. They will match up with Sweden on Tuesday. That will be a long day.

The Blues Brothers...

Normally I would begin a story in the beginning. The best way to describe the USA vs Czech Republic match in Gelsenkirchen is with a picture that captured the moment after it ended. Sunil Gulati, US Soccer Federation President and I started out a quarter century ago running the youth selections of Connecticut and New York. As the day began we realized that we each had become the leading Americans at FIFA and in the United States. There is a lot of joy in that. After the game, we silently shared a melancholy case of the blues as a result of the performance of our team. The feeling will be with us for a long time and can only be erased by new efforts to achieve the positive results I believe can be ours.

In route to the game, we stopped at the Maritim Hotel in this lovely Westphalian city to drop off some tickets ordered by Former Federal Reserve Governor Alan Blinder, who today is the leading Princeton economics guru and a colleague of my dear friend, Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Alan was ready for the day wearing his Air Force One hat and dressed much more comfortably than me, perfectly attired for the weather and the game. As I arrived on the hotel's front veranda, he introduced me to former U.S. Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal, whose signature I recongized from all of those dollars that had gone through my hands during his tenure.

Mary Lynn, while I was chatting with Dr. Blinder, spotted two ceramic Soccer angels in a shop window in the hotel lobby. Having a reasonable collection of similar art from various countries, we waited for the storekeeper to get the packaging materials before moving on to the stadium. One was dressed in white, the other in blue. The trick is always how to get them home unbroken. With the way things went today, I am not too certain of their fate. It will probably mean that these two little guys will be hand carried from Berlin back to New York.

Prior to the match, I was introduced to the Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus. He followed the popular leader Vaclav Havel who served at their first President for 10 years until 2003, when Klaus took over. Coming to this group opener was also the Charge d' Affairs of the US Embassy in Berlin and his family and another large delegation of the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Jiri Paroubek.

A pleasant surprise was a visit by the former Lord Mayor of Leipzig, who is now the Federal Minister for Transport, Building and Urban Development of Germany. Wolfgang Tiefensee was the extraordinarily popular of Leipzig Mayor and a key figure in the 1989 protests which led to the reunification of Germany. It was very nice to see him again. As the game began, we could see the three governments seated in a row; all very absorbed by the intensity of the match.

CONCACAF Vice President Alan Rothenberg and Shun-ichiro Okano with their experiences now in the hands of Franz Beckenbauer, each had headed a FIFA World Cup. Alan did his in the USA in 1994 and Shun-ichiro in Japan 4 years ago. They continue to help FIFA in the organization.

Franz is always agreeable as a fan asks to have her jersey signed by her hero. Whereever you go in Germany, Franz' true popularity is a real commodity and greatly deserved based on his enormous ability complimented by his humility. The FIFA 2006 World Cup Germany has kicked off to a great start. There is a no nonsense attitude by all the teams. They know why they are here.

Platini reminds me that he had suffered the humility of unsuccessful matches and that there are better days ahead. I will just have to wait and hope that the game with Italy produces a better result on Saturday. It is time to leave the stadium and head back to Cologne with my friend George Tarantini, Bobby Abramowitz and his wife together Mary Lynn and our driver Holger Thiessen. If you read spanish, you can get some insight into the World Cup with stories Abramowitz is posting at Futbol Mundial. Nonetheless, I know the 1 1/2 hour ride back to Cologne will be an unusually long and quiet one. I am sure the radio will be playing the Blues.

Schlaf gut, mein Freund...

It was likely that over a six week period not all of the experinces would be good. Prior to my departure from New York on May 30th, I went to visit my friend Mark Monsky for the last time. He had just been moved from the New York Medical Center of Cornell University, where he had been receiving chemo-therapy and platelet transfusions, to the Calvary Hospital, a hospice in the Bronx where you check-in but don't check-out.

I must admit that I was very anxious about visiting Mark in a hospice. However, I did find a true care facility where their special staff and equipment were adept at dealing with their patients whose power to do for themselves was long since sapped by the combination of disease and treatment. I was joined on the trip by Mark's long time friend Michael Hershman and when we got to the room, Mark's sons, who had flown in from California, and his wife Beverly were there with him. Mark was still able tell jokes and wanted to confide secrets that no one else should know. The build up of toxins in his blood was clear and the deterioration over the prior week since I had seen him at NY Hospital was a sure sign that we would not find him alive when the World Cup was over.

It doesn't matter how well you prepare for the loss of a loved one. The finality of the notion that there would be no more dinners with him at Elaine's, where you quickly came to the realization how much of the current news departments of major U.S. broadcasters were hired by Mark or who owed their careers to his guidance and sage advice. Mark, the godson of William Randolph Hearst, whose father was the managing editor for Hearst newspapers in the formative days of Mark's youth, was a natural to end up in the news business. He loved adventure just as much, so it is not strange that he blended both of these in his illustrious career of broadcast news. He created the video magazine Hard Copy and even here in Germany did his turn at creating investigative programming as well.

For me, Mark provided the right balance of foil and friend. He had the intellect to challenge and test and at the same time was generous in teaching you the things he knew. Much of the input for the creation of the new TV studios in the CONCACAF offices came from Mark de-mystifying what we could accomplish in limited space.

The news came in the middle of a night with a call from Beverly to my New York cell. We will miss you. Sleep well, my friend.