The Free State Stars general manager didn’t use the word racist, he used “political” but that’s what he meant.
“I am not sure if I want to have this conversation in front of the cameras,” Mokoena said. “It baffles me. I really don’t understand how football, consumed by the majority of the population, yet you have so many clubs in the PSL without sponsors. If I must compare with other sporting codes, and not to undermine those codes, but there are some cricket teams that I don’t even know what they are called but they are well sponsored.
"I doubt that they are doing anything different to what we are doing, except for perhaps that the economy is in different hands. Like I said, I don’t really want to get into this conversation because it may get very political.”
The domestic football league is the most watched on television and at the stadium compared to domestic cricket and rugby yet the sponsorship landscape is skewed heavily on the latter. Even when corporate South Africa sponsors football, the terms and financial remuneration are friendlier to rugby and cricket than football. It comes across like they are doing football a favour, which is quite shocking when you look at the numbers because football wins hands down.
The reason is quite simple – institutional racism and the colour of the skin of the people who sign those sponsorship agreements.
That’s why one of the continent's biggest food retail chains, largely supported by black people, can see nothing wrong in not sponsoring the biggest sport in the country with a predominantly black following.
“We simply don’t have enough representation in the boardroom as black people,” Mokoena said. “Football is seen to be a black sport, or consumed by the majority of South Africa’s population which is black. When you drive past a ‘white school’ you’d find that it has five different boards of five different companies sponsoring the school. But if you go to a school in the township, it has zero. Like I said, it’s really a political view and it goes deeper than that.”
The national first division has been without a sponsor since 2007 yet corporate South Africa is willing to sponsor everything in rugby including hostels rugby. Part of the reason why the first division has struggled to get sponsors is the treatment it receives as the bastard child of South African football. Yes, corporate South Africa is racist towards football, but we also need to up our game in terms of how we do things - not to appease them but so that we don’t give them a reason to hide the institutional racism in sport sponsorship in the country.
The poor sponsorship in football is a double-edged sword. Part of the reason is that our clubs don’t know how to sell themselves and the agents who “sell” our players to corporate South Africa are poor at it. But those who do a good job in selling their clubs and players also have big hurdles in front of them, chief among them the colour of their skin and that of the person who signs the contracts. It will take a lot to change the status quo. It might not even change in our lifetime.
But while we try to knock down those walls, we should fix the broken ones in our communities. Imagine for instance if more taxi owners would sacrifice a couple of minutes of their time to have at least one of their taxis transport their local amateur teams to and fro from their games on weekends as a way to “sponsor” them. Imagine if that local businessman spent a small portion of his money to buy that child that everyone raves about their talent a proper pair of boots, running shoes or any sports equipment that they might need.
We should call out the racism in corporate South Africa because it’s there. But while we do that, we should also ensure that those of us with something extra give back to our communities and in that way we build ourselves up. If we do that consistently, we could get to a point where we don’t need corporate South Africa because we will have created a self-sufficient environment that ensures that we are able to take care of ourselves without asking for money from the “outside”.