An enthusiastic fan at the African Nations Championship at Cape Town Stadium, where Bafana Bafana played against Mozambique. The writer says that far more free tickets should have been made available to fill the stadium as many fans are broke after the festive season. Picture: Adrian de Kock

Football’s largest fan base, working-class people, are those who can least afford tickets for international sporting events, says Cheryl Roberts.

It is extremely disappointing to see empty seats when South Africa hosts international sports events, especially Test cricket matches and continental football tournaments. Under discussion is South Africa’s staging of the African Nations Championship tournament (Chan), almost four years after South Africa’s hosting of the world’s sports spectacle, the Fifa World Cup, yet stadiums can’t be filled.

Chan 2014 is being staged in three cities, over a three-week tournament involving 16 African countries. But what is the use of having expensive world-class football stadia and hosting international football tournaments without getting the football fans there?

Football’s largest fan base is the working class who love, admire, adore and respect the beautiful game. It is a game belonging to the working class, yet the very same working class communities that provide the layers from grassroots level to international participation, are unable to enjoy the games because they can’t afford the money required to attend the matches.

The working class is broke at this time of the year, just after the festive season. How can we expect them to purchase football tickets, cover transports costs and have food money? No food is allowed into the stadium; you must purchase the overpriced and unhealthy food and drinks standing in long queues, inside the stadium.

Cape Town is a host city with support from the Western Cape government’s department of sport, yet officials from these two agencies can’t seem to understand that a successful tournament must have fans on seats, supporting the matches, cheering the players.

Football has the biggest participation rates in sport, with thousands of junior and senior players, women and men, girls and boys registered in league programmes. If the tickets are not selling, why can’t the clubs and teams who play registered football, together with parents, be given tickets to fill the stadium.

What is the use of hosting a continental championship, that is heavily supported by sponsors and government, if people who love football can’t see the matches live because they don’t have the money?

South Africa’s wide social inequalities always negatively affect the lower-income public, who lose out on international sport. Transport costs from poor communities to Cape Town Stadium are exorbitant.

The DA-administered City of Cape Town provides a free MyCitTi bus service from the Civic Centre to the stadium and from Hout Bay to the stadium, yet it can’t assist the working-class fans by providing free transport from the townships and the hood where the football supporters live.

Although the first allocation of cheaper tickets were available during earlier bookings, how can you expect most working class football fans to buy privileges such as football tickets when they are still hustling to pay electricity bills and school fees from two months ago?

There is some criticism around the hosting of Chan. People involved in grassroots, district and provincial football feel left out of the sport they help organise and develop during the year, using their own time with no payment. Despite being involved in football, they were not even called upon for their organisational skills and passion for the game.

I have spoken to several Local Football Associations (LFA) and club officials, and found ticket sales were so low about two days before the tournament’s opening that complimentary tickets were hastily made available. But that was too late. LFAs and club officials had no time to get tickets to players. Apparently national officials had books of tickets up until kick off on Saturday and weren’t able to get them distributed.

How does Chan organising committee, the DA-administered City of Cape Town and the Department of Culture, Sport and Recreation explain this embarrassing situation? What a waste of millions of rand to host a tournament featuring Africa’s emerging talents and future stars.

South Africa’s officials must understand that in our country, watching international sport is a privilege.

We have millions of sports fans but we don’t have all sports fans having disposable money to buy sports tickets. We must assist the working class to be able to come to sports events instead of keeping stadia gated and only open to those who can afford international sports tickets.

Don’t strangle working-class sports fans. Let’s assist them to make our international sports events, especially football, successful.

* Cheryl Roberts is a Cape Town-based writer.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Star