If you have a kid who wants to grow up to be a sports star, which of the big three would you suggest he or she picks? The big bucks are in football, but good luck trying to map out a path to the upper echelons of the game if you don’t know somebody who knows someone else.
Deep into Monday night, after a festive awards evening for the country’s best cricketers, a former football star posed the question: Why are Bafana so far behind their fellow national teams?
He winced at the great sense of embarrassment. As the likes of Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers picked up gongs, the former African champion wondered why the organisation that allows South Africa to stay in touch with the world’s best cricketers is so lacking in our football.
It is not the first time that the question has been posed. It is not really fair to compare football to rugby and cricket, simply because of the sheer scale of the competition in the world’s most popular sport.
But there is nothing stopping our football suits getting their house in order, like much poorer neighbours like Zambia have managed to do. It doesn’t require a cash injection alone – it also needs direction and people in the game for the right reasons.
Both rugby and cricket get hauled over the coals by politicians for their supposed lack of transformation. Funnily enough, the fact that Dean Furman stands out like a sore thumb in the Bafana side is no problem for those who profess that all our national teams need to be “fully representative”. But that is a topic for another day.
The issue at hand right now is the structures at grassroots level. When you look at their development structures, any talented rugby player or cricketer can work his way through a system, from barefoot intrigue to professional contract.
The number of Proteas who have tiptoed from Mini cricket, to the national under-13 week, then the under-15, under-17, the Khaya Majola Week, and then the franchise system shows that a little bit of planning and structure can go a long way.
Rugby has a similar path mapped out. Why not our football? Why do we have to wait for the likes of Furman to be plucked out of British obscurity, or Itumeleng Khune to be spotted by chance while watching someone else at trials?
And all the while, the likes of Safa president Kirsten Nematandani waft into the meaningless pre-match handshaking opportunities with a whiff of self-importance that belies his uselessness.
Last week’s exit from the World Cup race was just the latest in a series of underwhelming displays. The Thulani Serero fiasco deviated attention away from the cold hard facts for a few days, but the supposed “young Bafana’s” loss to Zimbabwe on Tuesday put into perspective just how far behind the times this country’s football is.
Incredibly, the much-vaunted mandates that were set for Igesund have been brushed aside by Safa’s wizard of woefulness, King Kirsten. He was supposed to take Bafana to the last four of the African Cup of Nations earlier this year.
That didn’t happen.
But he had a second bite at the cherry, which was to take the national team to the 2014 World Cup. That didn’t happen either, but he seems pretty certain that his job is safe for another year at least.
Whether Igesund remains as coach or not won’t change the fact that our development needs a rapid overhaul.
And not in five years’ time, when the next batch of bulging suits have skimmed off enough profits to retire happily.
Ke nako, as they say. It is time. - Sunday Independent