An honour for Rafa.

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On Tuesday night my phone suddenly burst into life with news that an online poll had started calling for Palma airport to be renamed in honour of Australian Open champion, Rafa Nadal. It was one of those whatsapp messages which had been sent a million times but the ball was moving. I don’t know who started the campaign but even on Tuesday night it was gaining momentum. It was a public-led and devised drive and so far there had been no-word from officialdom. My initial thought was it was like one of those knee- jerk campaigns by the British tabloids who believe that anyone should be knighted whatever they win.

It wasn’t too long before “officialdom” was asked about the story. First up was Balearic President, Francina Armengol. She thought it was a marvellous idea but that ultimately it would be a decision for the airport operator (AENA). Armengol had been quick to congratulate Rafa on social media following his victory on Sunday and she heaped praise on him (well deserved) all week. Meanwhile, in his hometown of Manacor the local council and some politicians were also demanding that he had a street named after him. There was even talk of a statue in the centre of Manacor. But, it was the airport proposal which was grabbing the headlines. It was far more ambitious than a statue or street name in Manacor.

Our sister newspaper, Ultima Hora, did an online poll and opinions were mixed. The Bulletin did the same. Our online poll caused a sensation. “Lovely to honour Rafa like that, but if it’s the same here as in South Africa, it’s a huge cost of tax payers money to change the names of Airports, Roads, etc,” said one comment on our facebook site. Another thought it should be renamed Tim Henman airport (he has since been barred!!). One tourist said that he had been travelling from John Lennon airport in Liverpool to Palma for many years so it should be a question of Let It Be and rename it after Rafa.

Another suggested that it was a decision for the Majorcan people and one bright spark said “imagine the captain of the plane telling you that you had just landed on Rafa!” So, not an unanimous decision. But, Madrid airport has recently been renamed Adolfo Suarez airport after the Prime Minister who led Spain to democracy after the death of Franco and in Britain you have anything from John Lennon Airport to Robin Hood airport.

The Mayor of Palma, Jose Hila, took a more measured approach. He said that the word Palma needed to be included in the airport name. Good thinking Batman you wouldn’t want anyone to think that Majorca had a new town called Rafa Nadal! In the case of the Mayor of Palma he had a plan to change the names of a large number of Palma streets which has since been shelved.

Palma has a Robert Graves street named after the great British writer and poet and there are plenty of squares and street across the island named after Alexander Fleming of penicillin fame. So what does the man himself think? Rafa, in his usual modest fashion said that if the people of Majorca wanted the name change he would be very honoured. The people who have been strangely quiet on the issue have been the tourist industry. Surely, Majorca renaming their airport after their top sports star would be great promotion for the island and bringing home the fact to visiting tourists that Rafa was from Majorca.

The tennis ace is obviously hugely popular in Spain, so much so that his fame even attracted the attention of Catalan nationalists. One of their senior figures said that Nadal “was an enemy of the state (the Catalan state)” in one of their usual anti-Spanish blasts. Rafa is a proud Spaniard. He supports Real Madrid and he is the first to grab the Spanish flag, quite rightly so. I have heard some criticism from a very small minority that perhaps he is too Spanish but he has never hidden his love and affection for Majorca and his home town of Manacor. In fact, he is Manacor’s greatest ambassador. What is evident is that apart from being one of Spain’s greatest sports people, Rafa is a very nice guy. Should he have Palma airport named after him? Probably not but some sort of honour is needed.

Comment by Bulletin columnist Frank Leavers

As keen as mustard, yet only marginally talented tennis tragic, like most other people on the island and across Spain, I was delighted at Rafael Nadal’s victory at the Australian Open Tennis Tournament last weekend. His hard fought victory over the young, talented and upcoming, Daniil Medvedev, when finding himself two sets down in the final said it all about Rafa’s sporting spirit, talent, and endurance. Nor should it be forgotten that he has won more Grand Slam tennis tournaments in his career than any other man - ever. More than this, Nadal seems to be a rounded human being at the same time, something that is not always a ‘given’ with the super-talented in any field of endeavour.

Indeed, Rafa is acclaimed for his ‘grace under pressure’ and is seen as a national hero across the whole of Spain; a country incidentally, where he chooses to pay his income tax! So then, surely the idea that Palma Airport should be named after one of the Balearics greatest sons should be a mere formality? Well, embarrassing as it may seem - I beg to differ. Mostly in this area, only third-world dictators get the honour of having an airport named after them whilst still living. Famously, airports have been named after individuals such as: JFK - New York, Charles De Gaulle - Paris, John Lennon - Liverpool and George Best - Belfast. However, all of these men who brought honour to their countries, had died before their names enhanced airports in their own countries. And so, my position is this - the time will come to name Palma Airport after the island’s favourite son - but please, not just yet!