All roads lead to Soweto

With the derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates on Saturday, and the Soweto Marathon a day later, all roads to Soweto this weekend.

The derby
There is much more than three points and bragging rights at stake this Saturday when the Soweto Derby returns to its roots, Orlando Stadium, after more than two decades.

The 2010 World Cup venue, refurbished for a staggering R280-million, disgraced itself this week. Firstly, the lush green pitch during in the Confederations Cup has deteriorated to patches of sand after only a few Premier Soccer league (PSL) games. Secondly, Danny Jordaan and his organising committee watched in horror as the floodlights gave in, not once but twice this week.
The MTN final between Ajax Cape Town and Golden Arrows had to be stopped for 54 minutes after the lights went off. Then Kaizer Chiefs and Arrows had to play in semi-darknes for a while because of the same problem.

All these glitches could, however, pale into insignificance at the 2010 practice venue on Saturday if there is no adequate security for one of the most fiercely contested derbies in world football.

Tickets were sold out by Wednesday and the 40 000-seat stadium will be packed to the rafters for the 2009 Battle of Soweto Part One.

The afternoon kick-off will at least ensure that the match finishes in regulation time but this has not allayed the worries of PSL GM for security Philip Masimong. “The 2010 World Cup is only a few months away and we need everything to be perfect at Orlando. That is why we have had numerous security meetings planned this whole week,” he told Business Day.

He hopes these meetings will be enough to restrict the battle to the field of play as Amakhosi and the Bucs face off on the backdrop of contrasting fortunes.

Chiefs overcame a series of defeats at Orlando when they outclassed Arrows 2-0 on Wednesday, courtesy of goals from Kaizer Motaung Jnr and Reneilwe Letsholonyane. While Chiefs were turning on the power, the Sea Robbers went down 2-1 to AmaZulu in Durban, their third straight defeat. The fantastic form that characterised Rudi Krol’s start to the season has vanished and tilted the scales in favour of their rivals ahead of the Soweto showdown.

Besides the loss of form, Pirates will be without inspirational captain Benson Mhlongo who has not recovered from a knee injury. Moreover, Bucs’s talisman, Teko Modise, has lost form and his continued place in the starting line-up raises eyebrows. Facing an Amakhosi side armed with a ticking Simphiwe Tshabalala, solid defence well marshalled by Thomas Sweswe and the threat of young Knowledge Musona upfront is a tough ask for Krol. The Dutch coach may draw comfort from the fact that he scored a double over his opponents last season.

Even with one team weighed down by the underdog tag, the return of the derby to its traditional roots is set to be memorable. Whether it is remembered for the right reasons depends on how well the PSL manages the potentially explosive atmosphere at Orlando Stadium—26 years down the line.

The Marathon

This year the 19th Nedbank Soweto Marathon will be overshadowed by growing discontent among runners fed up with what they consider to be the deteriorating standard of races held under the auspices of the discredited Athletics South Africa (ASA).

So disgruntled are the runners that they have issued a call for two minutes of silence to show “athletic ubuntu”. This is scheduled to precede the start of the race on Sunday.

It is “to remind the national federation and local organising province that those bodies have failed in their collective responsibility to place the interests of athletes at heart and the administrators have in essence undermined the sporting code”, according to a statement issued by the protest organisers.

Although the title sponsor, Nedbank, has distanced itself from the call, its recent decision to dump ASA is widely interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the association. If the call is heeded on Sunday, not only will it spoil the party, it will also cause further damage to the already battered image of ASA.

Those in the know say it was only a matter of time before the discontent burst into the public domain, given a series of previous bungles by ASA. The inept manner in which ASA dealt with the recent Caster Semenya furore was the last straw.

It also has the potential to split the running community along racial lines. Some black runners are strongly opposed to the protest as they see it as a ploy by white racist elements to dispose of the current [black] leadership and install their own brethren.

There are also fears of a repeat of the 1992 fiasco when the race could not take place because it lacked sponsorship. And the prospects of finding a reputable financier with deep pockets look slim, as ASA’s credibility has taken a serious knock in the eyes of potential sponsors.

Concerns highlighted by the runners include inadequate water points on the routes, unmarked routes, lack of sufficient marshals to guide and protect runners from traffic and failure to give medals and T-shirts at the finish.

A fellow runner cries whenever she recounts her experience in the Soweto Marathon last year. She is still bitter and no longer keen to take part in future races.

“I may not be gold-medal material but I always make sure I finish the race and when I do I expect to be rewarded with a medal and a T-shirt for my effort,” she says.

“The heat was unbearable and I was hurting from the bruises on my feet and I could not believe it when I was told they [had run] out of medals. Just imagine!”

Yet another peeved runner, who runs in Bedfordview colours and has witnessed the deteriorating standards at some of the races, also lamented the situation.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said: “What we are seeing is not inspiring at all and it kills the race. The thing is, ASA wants to do everything on their own, even when they know they are stretched. They should outsource some of these services to clubs. How do you justify this poor service when every year the entry fee is hiked? We deserve better, really.”

The start and finish of this year’s race have been changed from the Elkah Stadium in Moroka, Soweto, to the MTN Expo Centre at Nasrec. The starter’s gun goes off at 6am.

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