Slouching towards 2010

How does one begin to capture the face of South African football in 2006? While the unfolding story of the 2010 Soccer World Cup has tended to dominate the news, the enduring shortcomings of the domestic game—football authorities’ inability to create viable support structures—continue to blight some of its well-intentioned initiatives.

The best thing the South African Football Association (Safa) did this year was to appoint Carlos Alberto Parreira as national coach in July. It immediately blotted its copybook, however, by allowing the Brazilian to dictate that he would only start his job in February.

What is more worrying is that, since naming the new coach, Safa has come up with no structural solutions to support a rebuilding of the national team as the country prepares for 2010.

During a brief visit to the country in September Parreira voiced his concerns about the lack of an effective youth development programme. Although sponsors such as Metropolitan and Supersport have organised age-group competitions, Safa has let further months go by without any attempt to get a domestic youth championship of its own off the ground. For a country aspiring to international success in less than four years’ time, this lack of urgency it is alarming.

Parreira suggested bringing in his own chosen personnel, an unequivocal communication to Safa that he feels the organisation has failed to address the problem of youth development.

Safa’s youth affairs department has been without a leader since its head, Zola Dunywa, was sacked in November for criticising Safa’s inaction. 

The saddest story of 2006, though, was the collapse of the School of Excellence, for many years the flagship of soccer development. It is an example of what happens when sponsors continue to support Safa financially without forcing the national association to account for the money. In the past two years Transnet has provided more than R10-million to the School of Excellence, yet standards have declined, the school faces staff shortages and its programmes have been compromised.

South African football has also, for many years, neglected the development of technical expertise. Because Safa survives on patronage rather than attracting people with skills and experience to its ranks, the future is bleak.

The country still lacks a unified concept of how we, as South Africans, approach the game. An example of the ridiculous situations this can create is taking place right now in KwaZulu-Natal. Brazilian instructors, seconded by Fifa, and Fifa experts are conducting advance coaching courses based on Brazilian methods. Safa has its own coaching development programmes aligned to Dutch and German approaches.

In October 2005, Safa decided that, as part of the preparations for 2010, a countrywide search needed to be instituted as part of a youth talent identification policy. This programme was supposed to guide the future selection of players for the national team. The search has yet to start.

One of Parreira’s other recommendations was that South Africa constantly expose its players to the rigours of international competition.

He argued strongly that this would be good preparation for the 2010 tournament, particularly because, as hosts, Bafana Bafana do not have to qualify for the World Cup.

What this meant was that our national teams and clubs should endeavour to expand their international participation in official tournaments, semi-official events and seek friendly matches against other countries. Earlier this month, however, Orlando Pirates—one of the three local teams that provide the bulk of the players for national teams—pulled out of the continental club championships. As usual, Safa remained mum on the matter.

At the root of most of these problems is the structure of the national association itself. Although there are departments that deal with different aspects of the game, such as a competitions and youth development, what has been missing is a single decision-making body that can monitor everything from coaching to unifying national standards. This is supposed to be the task of the technical committee, but that body remains toothless as the various stakeholders in domestic football jockey for position and influence.

Safa’s solution was the creation of a commerical wing, under which all national representative teams will fall, as a bridge between Safa and the top-level professional clubs, as represented by the Premier Soccer League.

But in 2006 this project failed to get off the ground. Endless squabbling about the exact remit of the commercial wing, stonewalling from elements from the PSL and the apparent inability of the Safa hierarchy to make and enforce decisions mean this body remains dysfunctional.

Most of the setbacks and failures of South African football are a consequence of the weak and visionless leadership at Safa.

Time is running out.

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