/ 23 January 2014

Editorial: Football egos take their eye off the ball

Bafana Bafana's perfomances on the field have declined to embarrassing levels.
Bafana Bafana's perfomances on the field have declined to embarrassing levels.

The harsh criticism of Bafana Bafana by Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula has opened a can of worms, with most South Africans who are fed up with the national team's poor performance agreeing with him. But many others are saying that not only was Mbalula's language inappropriate, but that he should also take full responsibility as the minister of sport for the past four years. And, they ask: What he has done about football in the past few years?

The only point of consensus is that Bafana Bafana have declined to embarrassing levels, and that it cannot continue.

But there is precious little agreement on what went wrong or how it should be fixed. With this particular African Nations Championship tournament, it was clear that the team was hampered by almost no preparation and a fight between the South African Football Association and the Premier Soccer League over the release of players for the tournament.

There is also unanimity that our youth-development structures are not on par with the rest of the world, and that the millions that corporate sponsors are pouring into the sport should be spent on grooming young talent.

But that is still not the full explanation for our woeful state, as many other African countries are not endowed with development academies, yet still produce decent players and better teams.

It is shocking that our under-17, under-20 and under-23 teams have been inactive for years, and some do not have permanent coaches. As other African teams have shown, it is only countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, whose youths compete in international tournaments, that have excelled not only on the continent, but also in the World Cup.

We will not reap what we have not sown. As recent history shows, the current crop of Bafana players is simply not good enough to stand its ground at international level, and we should not hope that will change in the future if we have not put structures in place to ensure that it does.

The egos of football administrators need to be punctured as well for the good of the game. The territorial battle between the Premier Soccer League, led by Irvin Khoza, and the South African Football Association, presided over by Danny Jordaan, has not helped our football as their fights have sabotaged football development. There is no magic wand that can be waved to save football, but the African Nations Championship ­tournament at least served to remind us that there is a crisis.