The football is in their court
With the Fifa World Cup looming for South Africa, these are the men battling for control of local footballs future after the global showpiece.
After only four months on the job, the newly elected South African Football Association (Safa) president has purged most potential threats, including Safa CEO Raymond Hack, a seasoned football administrator and opposition camp loyalist, in record time.
The only obstacle to his holding the position is the threat of “the legal route” the Premier Soccer League (PSL) Board of Governors may decide to explore after the World Cup. (The PSL said it would seek legal advice on whether or not the recent Safa elections were held in accordance with the Safa constitution.)
However, for his part, Nematandani has done a lot in his short time in office to win the public’s favour. His swift dismissal of Joel Santana as Bafana Bafana coach won him many friends in the football community. The Brazilian coach, reportedly hired by Hack without an interview, had lost eight of his last nine games when the new Safa boss intervened.
Even the replacement of Hack with Leslie Sedibe has added a few points to his CV, should it be required to decide whether he has the balls to lead the number one sport in the country. Significantly, Nematandani has the backing of Danny Jordaan and the Football Transformation Forum (FTF).
He has emerged as a master tactician in the battle for control of the sport. Every victory, big or small, for the FTF appears to have his name on it.
He was the first candidate to stand down during the Safa presidential elections, yet a man from his corner emerged victorious. As one of the most powerful figures in South African football, Jordaan is firmly in the driving seat. Reports, also confirmed by Safa vice-president Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana, that Jordaan might return to the position of Safa CEO, which he vacated in 2004 to head the Local Organising Committee (LOC), have gained credence in the past fortnight.
Sedibe, who agreed to a one-year contract last week, could be warming the seat for Jordaan to take over as early as December 31 after he wraps up his World Cup duties.
In the unlikely event that he does not assume the post of CEO, Nonkonyana told the Mail & Guardian that Jordaan would be “deployed to a senior position” within South African football. It would be a major victory for Jordaan over his adversary, Irvin Khoza.
He is the LOC chairperson, PSL chairperson, Safa vice-president and Orlando Pirates owner and chairperson. This alone should be enough of a warning to his enemies not to begin popping the champagne corks prematurely. The Iron Duke is a tried and tested football administrator who is not new to the politics of power in the sport. His silence after what many perceive as a shattering defeat has drawn murmurs of discomfort from the FTF. “He should come out and say whether he is with us or not.”
I remember attending a press conference called shortly after his defeat last year, only for him to refuse at the last minute to address the media. Members of the media had arrived in their droves in the hope that the Iron Duke would say whether or not he endorsed the new Safa leadership. The media were not the only ones curious about his calculating silence.
He surprisingly travelled as one of Safa’s new leaders to Fifa headquarters in Switzerland when they were invited by the world mother body late last year. Despite this, he has not attended any Safa meetings under Nematandani—although he has been wise enough to send an apology.
The pressure his behaviour is exerting on the Safa leadership, and their frustration with it, was evident this week.
“We are quite powerless and do not know whether he is with us or not because he always excuses himself from our meetings,” said Nonkonyana.
But with most of his loyal backers purged from strategic positions, Khoza faces a tough battle in upstaging Jordaan. The only apparent ace up his sleeve so far is his powerful PSL constituency.
The Kaizer Chiefs chairperson and PSL finance committee head has already been asked to explain his statements in the wake of Khoza’s failure to land the Safa presidency. He was the spokesperson for the PSL Board of Governors, which unanimously decided to consider taking the legal route after the Safa elections.
Safa wants to know whether his views were personal or whether he represented the PSL. Either way some clever dribbling will have to take place if he is to avoid the wrath of the new Safa leadership, which is keen to stamp out the slightest signs of opposition. Still, Motaung is a powerful figure in South African football and his influence will play a role in what transpires after the World Cup.
Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana
He is the chairperson of the FTF and is credited with the strategy that ushered in the new football dispensation in the country.
Nonkonyana is a traditional leader, an advocate, an ANC member of Parliament since 1999 and has been the Safa vice-president from 2005 to date.
He is easily Jordaan’s closest ally and, if things had gone his way, Jordaan would be Safa president.
Nonkonyana takes pride in being an ANC activist and is on record as saying that he borrowed his political party’s strategy in his campaign for the FTF candidates for Safa positions. He has been criticised for holding a senior football position while he remains a politician and an MP. It’s a position that Fifa discourages in its affiliates.
However, Nonkonyana dismisses his critics with the assertion that he does not bring politics into the sport. He claims to be driven by a desire to see South Africa take its place among the best football nations in the world. He has done little to ease the tension among the warring factions with his “bring it on” attitude.
He said the FTF was aware of a fight-back plan being mooted for after the World Cup, and warned that the FTF was “more than ready for it”.
For now, Sedibe, a lawyer, is Safa CEO—meaning he is the administrative head of the organisation.
He replaced Khoza’s confidant, Raymond Hack, last week after signing a one-year contract. Sedibe (36) is seen as the man who has agreed to warm the seat for Jordaan should he decide to take over the position after the World Cup.
He is the last of Khoza’s top confidants to leave Safa House. After six years as the organisation’s CEO, Hack acknowledged being “saddened” by leaving Safa a few months before the World Cup. He may have paid the price for his support for the Iron Duke.
However, in the event of a fight- back, Hack is expected to be central to those plans.