Leaving behind a legacy

2014-03-10 00:00

WHY are we so harsh in our criticism of our sporting heroes? It is a question that I ponder as Proteas captain Graeme Smith’s announcement of his retirement starts to sink in.

Smith has achieved success as the captain of the national cricket team. Under his leadership, the Proteas reached the summit of the ICC’s one-day and Test rankings.

But like his predecessors Wessels, Cronje and Pollock, he failed to win an ICC trophy. He is a South African hero, but the failure to perform at an international tournament will leave a blot on his CV.

Our fickleness when it comes to our sports stars reminds me of how people reacted to Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula when he publicly lambasted Bafana Bafana for failing to reach the knockout round of the Chan tournament.

On Wednesday night, Mbalula was far more reserved in his comments, praising Brazil for not holding back as they dissected Bafana and scored five goals without response.

But the manner of his response to Bafana’s Chan elimination, and the subsequent reaction from Safa on the need to improve soccer development, needs analysis. If you have forgotten the gist of Mbalula’s rant, here are some highlights.

He described the performance, especially against Nigeria, as a “crisis of monumental proportions” and “disgraceful”.

“Last night we saw a bunch of losers who conceded two useless goals. We must never wake up to this situation ever again,” said the minister.

A highly emotional Mbalula personalised the issue, even naming and shaming players such as Moeneeb Josephs for their performance.

“They don’t respect their parents, their girlfriends and the nation. There is a need for a new generation of players as the current crop doesn’t respect their country. Brazil did it when they got rid of players such as Kaka, so why can’t we? They must make way [for others].”

A few weeks after Mbalula’s comments, Safa boss Danny Jordaan spoke about proper development plans needing to be in place in order for Bafana Bafana to qualify for the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

Jordaan admitted that the country does not have an adequate team that can compete internationally.

He said there are a number of fundamental problems, including a lack of qualified coaches, and the fact that South African soccer needs total reconstruction in order to produce a world-class team. He was far more eloquent in his assessment of Bafana’s fortunes, but his sentiments were similar to Mbalula’s.

In order for South African football to go forward, the team needs to be taken apart and the structures have to be analysed. But these concepts are not new.

The current dominant forces in football on the African continent started using them decades ago.

Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria all have junior teams that feature consistently at the Fifa junior world cups. This is a clear indicator that the senior teams will have strong players in years to come. South Africa’s junior football teams struggle to qualify for these tournaments.

Bafana legend Shaun Bartlett, interviewed by etv last week, spoke of the importance of planning ahead and thinking long term.

Bartlett, who has 74 international caps and scored 28 times for his country, urged Jordaan and Safa to have a rethink about their development structures, and while the focus might be on the national team, they must make sure the younger players get the necessary attention as well. He certainly knows what he is talking about and one hopes Safa listens.

South African sports stars such as Smith and Bartlett leave behind a legacy of sporting success. But it is important that administrators such as Jordaan and Mbalula leave behind a legacy of their own. Is it enough that they will be remembered for successfully hosting the 2010 World Cup in South Africa?

Or will they also be remembered for laying the foundations for a Bafana Bafana team that can compete with Africa and the world’s best teams?

• kuben.chetty@witness.co.za

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