The successful hosting of the Fifa World Cup finals in South Africa last year might have given a misleading picture of this country’s true standing among football nations. The quality infrastructure that was rolled out, the competent handling of logistics and the global praise distracted us from the truth: we are pretty woeful when it comes to actually playing the game.
South Africans quickly forgot the unfortunate record we set by becoming the first host nation to be eliminated in the first round of World Cup finals, but from our current vantage point that looks like a high-water mark.
The past two months have exposed profound malaise. Bafana Bafana failed in their second successive attempt to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations, the under-23 squad came close but were not good enough to qualify for next year’s Olympics and our under-20s were knocked out in the first round of the Cosafa regional tournament in Botswana. The picture is truly appalling, yet no one seems willing to accept responsibility. The South African Football Association insists there is no crisis.
The fact is that Safa itself is in disarray, from its inability to compute basic requirements to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations to having no obvious plan to develop players and move them up the age divisions to the senior team.
But the fractious relationship between Safa and the Premier Soccer League is also to blame.
There appears to be a low-intensity war behind the scenes. The war of words between the under-23 coach and the chairperson of the league, Irvin Khoza, over the release of players for the qualifying tournament in Morocco last week was evidence of that.
It is time the sponsors, who pour millions into the game, started asking tough questions before committing their money, as they have in cricket. And the minister of sport should now turn his focus to this hugely popular sport, where the big men have got away with so much for so long.
Read the first editorial “Power, patronage and the provinces“