June 11, 2009

Do not only blame isolation in sports only for our lack of excellence

Filed under: sports — newritings @ 3:04 pm

Whenever I am embarrassingly adding to my carbon footprint, I inevitably look out for a copy of the Financial Times, and especially Simon Kuper’s Sporting Life, which does not disappoint. His recent column (Financial Times, 6/7 June 2009) “Isolationist mindset keeps South Africa playing ticky –tacky” raises some criticisms that are valid, but slightly dated. This was the view about 10 years ago, and I think he be-labours the point of isolation, blaming it for our lack of football pedigree.

Kuper is simplistic especially when he argues that “South African rugby and cricket had suffered isolation too. But they were mostly white sports. The country’s whites were so rich that even during apartheid they remained connected to global networks. After apartheid fell, they quickly learned that new best practice in their sports. By contrast, South African football stayed quite isolated. When the Bafana Bafana traveled to their first World Cup in 1998, many South Africans imagined they would win it by playing ticky-tacky. This did not happen.”

I will not write about the fact that playing ticky-tacky or ziggy-zaggy is not in itself bad if it plays to your players strengths, suffice it to say that Brazil and Argentina, for example, won many World Cups playing on their skills, which included dribbling, and short passes! Kuper by implication suggests that non isolation breeds success. This is not true if you look at various other codes of sports in our country such as athletics and even swimming; both codes of sports went into decline after brief periods of success. When using this analogy for the football, one will imagine that the likes of England would be a roaring success, however, readers of this FT will know very well that they did not even qualify for their European Nations Cup, and have only won one World Cup in 1966- may be blamed for over exposure to world football. The brilliant tiny country, the Netherland, with all the football pedigree and exposure have had no real World Cup success, and limited success at European level! (We must not even begin to talk of Europe’s over-representation in the world cup slots, which gives them this exposure, but that is for another longer fight).

If Kuper wants to say that our football has of recent times been on a bit of a decline, than I agree with him, but this is not what he is saying. He simply suggests that our football is a failure. True, since our reincorporation into world football, our standing on the FIFA ranking has been irregular, but he omits to mention that we did win the African Cup of Nations in 1996, with the likes of Chippa Masinga, Lucas Rhoo Radeba (both Leeds United FC), Doc Khumalo with Mark Williams scoring two goals in that African final. Whilst not anti national styles of play, I must say that play did not strike me as being ticky-tacky. In the same year our team was recognized as the team making the most progress for that year.

Kuper fails to mention that Bafana Bafana lost in the 1998 AFCON finals, and ended in the 1999 AFCON third. Of South Africa’s World Cup record it is equally patchy: we qualified for the first opportunity world cup in 1998, as well as 2002, but failed to qualify in the World Cup of 2006.

IN our short history, I can conclude that there is room for improvement, but there is no obsession with playing shibobo or tsamaya or ticky-tacky, but we have to play to our strengths. Like Barca players, most South Africans are small and have more to learn from FC Barcelona, Brazil, Argentina than the fight ball of the English league.

We must remember that rugby was the National Party at play as the Dutch reform was the NP at prayer. The more serious explanations lay in poor management and the lack of club management and football development strategy, and funds (sponsorship) to all clubs as existed in rugby and cricket before and after apartheid. The sponsorship of football is for elite sports and at that, concentrated within big clubs.

Isolation had other results too, it brought about democracy to a reluctant and self-serving elite that had and has to be challenged at all times to make the sports they rule be more representative by including Black (Indian, Coloured and African players). They have resisted this on the grounds that the teams will be weakened – a racist ploy that has been exposed with the success of players such as Gibbs, Ntini, Amla and others in cricket and with the likes of Bryan Habana, Januarie, Ralepelle and others in rugby – and it bears testimony to the ongoing need to fight for fundamental change in sports and society.

Finally, with a free South Africa, a product of a global isolation campaign, gave impetus for the first World Cup to be held on African soil: the 2010 World Cup. This is an African World Cup and I pray one or more African team: Eqypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon, Ivory Coast… do us proud by reaching the semi finals or even taking it.

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: