World soccer chiefs descend on Cayman

Jeffrey Webb talks up potential of sports tourism 

Some of the biggest names in world soccer, including FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, will be in the Cayman Islands next week to share ideas on the future of the game in the region. 

Speakers for the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football Sports Summit at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman also include the organizer of the South Africa 2010 World Cup and the man responsible for hosting the Qatar World Cup in 2022. 

Stars of the game, including former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke, will also talk about the importance of football in transforming their lives. 

The conference, which along with a three-day FIFA workshop will attract some 400 delegates from across the region, as well as an international media entourage, is the latest sports tourism partnership between the Cayman Islands and FIFA. 

Cayman’s Jeffrey Webb, vice president of FIFA and president of CONCACAF, believes sports tourism, particularly soccer, can provide an economic boost to the islands. While hosting a World Cup is well out of Cayman’s reach, he believes a smaller scale tournament like the Beach World Cup is achievable. 

Mr. Webb believes the range of speakers, which also includes the organizers of the Tahiti 2013 Beach World Cup, will aid Cayman’s efforts to expand its capacity and ambition in sports tourism. 

“I think the success of the CONCACAF under-15 tournament has made me even more confident that Cayman can host these kind of events. We need to make some investment over the next few years, but I can easily see Cayman hosting an under-17 World Cup or even the 2017 Beach World Cup.” 

The “sports summit,” on the theme transformation through partnership, will focus on how politicians, businesses and the sports community can collaborate on major projects to the benefit of the region. 

Mr. Webb’s position as vice president of world soccer’s governing body as well as the head of the Central American and Caribbean region – a powerful voting bloc within FIFA – gives Cayman an influence that far outstrips its size and stature in the world game. 

Next week’s conference is, in itself, an example of a sports tourism event that will bring hundreds of officials to the island. 

Mr. Webb believes Cayman should make the most of the opportunity to tap into the experiences of global experts like Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of South Africa’s successful 2010 World Cup organizing committee. 

“Cayman is my home, so I’m delighted that we are going to be have people of such stature here. We are going to see some really innovative and dynamic presentations. 

“It will be great to hear from Danny Jordaan about what hosting that tournament meant to South Africa, what impact it had on that country, socially and economically. They really used that tournament to show what South Africa was about, after apartheid.” An overriding theme of the conference will be the power of soccer to change lives and to be more than just a game. 

One example closer to home will come from Bermuda politician Randy Horton, who played for the New York Cosmos in the 1970s before being traded to make way for Pele. 

Mr. Horton, a former minister of sports in Bermuda, will speak about the territory’s huge investment in football, and the impact that providing positive outlets for young people can have on street crime. 

With a recent spate of robberies and murders in Cayman fresh in the memory, Mr. Webb believes the lesson from Bermuda could be a timely one. 

He said, “In Cayman, we have been reactive instead of proactive. We’ve increased policing and put more people in prison. We are spending more than $60,000 per prisoner to lock people up. How much are we spending on getting young people involved in positive activities?” 

One of the more intriguing speakers on the guest list, and the man most likely to attract the attention of visiting journalists, including the BBC, is Hassan Abdullah Al-Thawadi, the chief executive of Qatar 2022. 

FIFA’s decision to hold the World Cup in the tiny desert state has attracted some controversy. The baking summer heat, which can reach a high of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, may force organizers to switch the tournament to the winter – an unprecedented move in the history of soccer. 

Mr. Blatter, who will deliver the keynote address at the conference in Cayman, has said it is “not rational” to play the tournament in June and July as normal. 

Among the biggest critics of any switch is Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the English Premier League, who has warned of the impact on domestic leagues across the world. Nic Coward, who serves alongside Mr. Scudamore as secretary of the English Premier League, will also speak at Tuesday’s conference. 

The conference opens Monday night with a gala dinner, featuring South African freedom fighter Mosima Gabriel “Tokyo” Sexwale as guest speaker. 

Mr. Sexwale was a political prisoner alongside Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the anti-apartheid movement at Robben Island. Mr. Sexwale and other prisoners kept their spirits up by playing soccer and even formed their own soccer association, known as the Makana FA, with Mr. Sexwale as secretary. He was later a leading figure in bringing the 2010 FIFA World Cup to a now democratic South Africa. 

Seb Platter

FIFA President Sepp Blatter will be in Cayman for a CONCACAF Sports Summit next week. – PHOTO: AP

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