/ 2 October 2009

What’s the big deal?

A story that received major coverage this week was the elevation of one Kirsten Nematandani to the leadership of South African football as South African Football Association (Safa) president.

The race for the Safa presidency emerged from nowhere to eclipse even athletics boss Leonard Chuene’s lies as a major development in our lifetime.

The cliffhanger leading to Safa’s annual general meeting last week was the titanic battle between Premier Soccer League and Local Organising Committee (LOC) chairperson Irvin Khoza and LOC chief executive Danny Jordaan.

But I have missed the story’s significance entirely. I asked some of my colleagues: what if Khoza becomes the president of Safa? What changes? How does that change the state of our football? Does it have any significance for Bafana Bafana? Or, at the least, does it affect the country’s top football team, Orlando Pirates? I posed the same questions about Jordaan.

Both are in the leadership of Safa and are leading the structure that is handling preparations for the World Cup next year.

I ordinarily would have thought that the World Cup, or maybe heading the World Cup committee, would be a more pressing and interesting issue for Safa, for South Africans in general and for the rest of the world’s football fans who are preparing to come here next year.

But, no, there was this Safa election, which was characterised as a major crisis in our football.

Then, bang, the big day arrived and a relatively unknown candidate, Kirsten Nematandani, got the post.

The highly anticipated drama of Jordaan and Khoza going toe to toe evaporated. The two big guns both withdrew, leaving Nematandani to win uncontested.

Khoza is said to have walked out when he realised he would lose. So we have Nematandani. Is that a good thing or a bad thing, I asked my sport colleagues, trying to make sense of it all? Must we celebrate or worry?

I was reminded immediately of the prescient quote by GK Chesterton: ”Journalism consists largely of saying Lord Byron is dead to people who never knew that Lord Byron was alive.”

A friend of mine just loves the quote and I feel it was never more appropriate. We have had a Safa president who was a spectator as Jordaan and Khoza worked their butts off to bring the World Cup to Africa for the first time and are now organising next year’s extravaganza despite him.

Maybe in time we will find out why we have to bother so much about Nematandani. But the crisis, in my opinion, is the performance of our national team, which suffered six consecutive losses and barely won in their seventh match against Madagascar, which does not count in football terms.

It is a crisis that none of the candidates, including Nematandani, had expressed concern about.

In the history of the Cup no home team has ever failed to qualify for the second round. But we look on course for the record unless there is some form of intervention.

If we are looking for a crisis, this should be it.