Boot out soccer thugs to save the PSL
This season's wave of hooliganism poses an alarming threat to the future of the Premier Soccer League.
There has been a sharp rise in crowd trouble at games, mainly involving the hurling of objects on to the pitch by disgruntled fans. Last weekend's attack on Mamelodi Sundowns coach Johan Neeskens has resulted in criminal charges against the culprits, laid jointly by the league and the club, but a major revision of the league's security plan is needed.
Better prevention measures are a priority, with more and better trained security officials needed at risky fixtures. The South African Football Association and the PSL need to clarify the vexed issue of liability: if clubs are not "strictly and vicariously liable" for crowd trouble, as they have recently argued in disciplinary hearings, then who is?
Either way, it is clear that fines levied against clubs are no deterrent to the culprits. Spectator lockouts would be a better option, as they would penalise and embarrass the club and the supporters in equal measure. In addition, rogue supporters should be identified, prosecuted and banned from attending games.
Drawing on a broadcast rights deal worth more than R2billion, the PSL already pays player salaries exceeding those in many European leagues. If attendances were to grow, the pie would get even bigger. If violence continues, it will shrink. More importantly, the risk of tragedy looms large. More than a decade of largely safe football has passed since the Ellis Park disaster; a repeat of that terrible night must be avoided at all costs.
Aside from official action, a revival of authentic fan culture is in order. The unique appeal of diski fan culture lies in creative, satirical communication, using props, placards and outrageous makarapas. Hurling a bag of mealie-meal at the dugout does not count as creativity, nor does attacking a legend of world football.