BENDING IT LIKE BECKHAM: England and LA Galaxy football star David Beckham goes through a drill with children at his self-titled academy at the Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence in Macoya yesterday. —Photo: KRISHNA MAHARAJ

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Beckham wins hearts at Macoya

By Lasana Liburd

England and LA Galaxy football star David Beckham was the darling of dozens of teenage and pre-teen footballers and scores of onlookers yesterday, as his self-titled Academy launched a six-day "Football Festival" at the Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence in Macoya.

It was FIFA vice-president and Minister of Works and Transport Jack Warner who urged the England FA to utilise Beckham in their campaign to host the 2018 World Cup and it might have been inevitable that the dashing Englishman would turn up in Warner's backyard at some stage during the bidding process.

Beckham was joined by the president and CEO of the 2018 World Cup bidding team, David Dein and Andy Anson, respectively, yesterday.

Anson, who spoke to the media, described England's bid as "technically very strong" while he credited Warner for offering his team "fantastic advice".

Warner, who went on the field with Beckham and joined him at his first press engagement, chided England for coming across as "arrogant" when they lost out to Germany for the 2006 showcase tournament.

Anson politely fended off enquiries about the threat of hooliganism to an English World Cup and the condition of the famous Wembley playing surface. He was less open to financial questions.

What was the cost of staging this six-day football camp?

"That is for David Beckham to answer," said Anson, before quickly ending his chat with the media.

Phil Mepham, media coordinator for the 2018 bid, did not like the query either.

"The cost is irrelevant. We are not getting into that," said Mepham.

Beckham also could not help with figures.

"I don't know how much it costs, but as long as the kids are happy," said the 35-year-old player.

The David Beckham Academy shut down its camps in London and California late last year because, according to the academy's website, "attendance never matched anticipated levels, especially as the economy worsened".

Yet the suggestion from the English FA, who happily used Beckham's academy as a platform for their political ambitions, was that the player personally flew in a bevy of coaches, paid for their accommodation and meals, as well as catered for 200 children for six days as a token of goodwill. Even if he did, no one would reveal the financial cost of the gesture.

FIFA's "Rules of Conduct" regarding the bidding process forbid "monetary gifts" and another urges refrain from "any benefit, opportunity, promise, remuneration or service to any of such individuals, in connection with the bidding process".

Beckham said his academy could return to Trinidad and Tobago but there was a caveat.

"Hopefully if we do get the World Cup, it would continue," he said.

The third FIFA rule, incidentally, forbid, "any kind of personal advantage that could give even the impression of exerting influence or conflict of interest, either directly or indirectly, in connection with the Bidding process such as at the beginning of a collaboration, whether with private persons, a company or any authorities, except for occasional gifts that are generally regarded as having symbolic or incidental value and that exclude any influence on a decision in relation to the bidding process".

FIFA choose their 2018 host on December 2, 2010, and Warner, even as he posed for photos alongside Beckham yesterday, opted to keep the bidding teams in suspense.

"We have not sat down yet as a confederation to make a decision," said Warner, who is also the Concacaf president.

The children present yesterday were the most obvious beneficiaries of Beckham's presence and they beamed with pride as the charismatic and tireless player hugged and took photos with every group and even played briefly with one team.

Media personnel, foreign and local, also cut short interviews to pose alongside the celebrity and receive autographs while his smile made more than a few mothers swoon.

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