CAPE TOWN – I was again struck by the need for footballers to think beyond their own egos and focus on contributing to making a difference in the lives of others.
Last week Wilfried Zaha penned an extension to his contract at Crystal Palace - worth about £130 000-a-week - and, at the same time announced that, ever since he started as a professional, he has been giving 10 percent of his salary to charity.
At the recently-completed 2018 World Cup in Russia, teen sensation Kylian Mbappe gave his tournament match fees to charity; so, too, did the whole of the England squad. At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Mesut Ozil donated his match fees to fund the surgery of 23 Brazilian children. The much-maligned Mario Balotelli, too, is just as generous - and half his salary goes to various charities.
Mohamed Salah is currently one of the world’s best footballers, but he, too, is committed to improving the lives of his countrymen, with the building of a hospital and a school in the area where he comes from in Egypt.
These are but a few examples; there are many others in international football devoted to projects to alleviate the suffering of others.
In the same way, in a country such as South Africa, in which there are many people struggling to make ends meet, in which so many are not sure where their next meal will come from, local footballers have a responsibility to give back. Many of these players come from the same backgrounds, they understand the struggle, which is why it is vital that they try to make a difference, no matter how small.
There are those who are already doing their bit, like Siphiwe Tshabalala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Thabo September, Lucas Radebe, Aaron Mokoena, George Lebese and Steven Pienaar - again, just to mention a few (forgive me if I miss a name).
But the point I’m trying to make is to the younger, emerging footballers, who think that, as soon as the big contract has landed, that it is time for a big SUV, the fancy Porsche, luxurious mansion and all the material trappings money can buy. It is important to remember where you come from - because, as the saying goes, “you make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give”.
While football salaries in SA cannot be compared to Europe, they are astronomical when compared with the ordinary South African in the street and their daily wrestle to put bread on the table. With the obscene amounts of money local football now attracts, it’s customary for the top players to be earning between R100 000 to R700 000 a month. Yes, you heard it right: in SA. And please remember that SA is awash with opportunities to make a difference.
So how difficult is it for players to donate even one percent of their salary to a charity of their choice? Why can they not identify a gifted, but needy student and sponsor their journey through university? Far too often, local footballers only sponsor and attach their names to a football tournament, but this is just more egotistical posturing.
In the long run, how does a hungry child become a good player? Why can players not plough some of their money into feeding schemes which look after the basic nutritional needs of children on a daily basis?
And what about education? Footballers always seem to want children to be footballers, like they are. But what about schools? What about investing in inspiring children to be doctors, engineers, architects, accountants, scientists and the like? And, in this way, changing their circumstances and their destiny.
I’m sure there are many players actively involved in making a difference to the lives of people around them.
But there also many who are doing nothing and simply watching the carnage of poverty and struggle: this column is directed at them.