Team of Choice needs its city

2011-07-02 00:00

THE relationship between sport and business is one that will never be broken.

In today’s age of consumerism the former cannot survive without the latter. Sure, there needn’t be any finances involved in a group of young enthusiasts kicking a football around a park, but sport at the highest level is far more complex.

Football bears testimony to this more than any other sport outside of the United States.

Running a football club is, in essence, running a business. Without a constant influx of funds the football club, like any other business, will fail.

Maritzburg United will begin another campaign in the PSL next month, and it is looking increasingly likely that they will do so, as they did last season, as the only side in the league devoid of a title sponsor.

The consequences of this are far more serious than the Team of Choice running out against the very best in the country without a logo on their jerseys (which is embarrassing enough).

Securing a title sponsor and having a constant supply of funds from a source other than broadcasting rights and injections from the PSL itself ease the load of the day-to-day expenses that the club faces.

These include player and staff wages, the renting of match and practice venues and travel expenses. Transfer budgets should be allocated from the board of the club.

United’s chairperson, Farouk Kadodia, has indicated that the KZN government should take financial action in ensuring the sustainability of its three PSL sides.

“If you look at where the KZN sides all finished in the league last season [AmaZulu 14th, Arrows 11th and Maritzburg 12th] it is very concerning,” Kadodia said.

“The government needs to get involved and market our sides and promote the sides within our province; we shouldn’t need two teams from Johannesburg to come before we do this.”

The problem with Maritzburg specifically is that its municipality can barely afford to pay its own wages, let alone that of a football team.

Kadodia is right in many ways, though. The Team of Choice has to be seen as an asset to the city.

Pietermaritzburg doesn’t get much first-class cricket with the Dolphins representing the province and occupying Kingsmead in Durban, and one can’t really see Woodburn hosting a Sharks Super Rugby encounter anytime soon.

In Maritzburg United the city has something special. Maritzburgers do not have to travel to Durban to support their local side.

The likes of Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns will all visit Harry Gwala stadium at some point during the season.

I lived in Chelmsford in the UK for a while. Chelmsford City, a club currently playing in England’s sixth tier, attracted around 1 000 people to Melbourne Park every league game.

The team’s supporters volunteer whenever they can to raise money for their beloved Clarets. They sell scratch cards and team merchandise at flea markets, organise fundraising events on weekends and even work at Melbourne Park on match day as security guards and ticket wardens — all free of charge.

It is something worth seeing.

What emerges is a club with a support base, even if it is small, that has a tangible stake in the team’s running.

Why does something like that happen there and not here?

It’s not that we’re any less football crazy, because we have countless people in our country who choose to support the English game over the local stuff.

Terms like “we” and “our” are used when discussing English sides.

Fans of the English game will argue that it is the superior quality of the football played by “their” side that ultimately wins their support.

But what about those 1 000 fans at Melbourne Park in Chelmsford on a Saturday afternoon?

You don’t see them going on about Manchester United and Chelsea. Why? Because they already have a side. In England you support the side that you are acquainted with geographically.

We support rugby the same way here. Why, then, do we not support football like this?

Maritzburg United may not boast names that anybody outside of South Africa and, in some instances, the team’s training ground will be familiar with, but they are Maritzburg’s players.

It is true in all walks of life that sometimes you don’t quite know what you have until it’s gone.

Maritzburg has PSL football on its doorstep. But if the form of the side in recent seasons is anything to go by, there is no way of knowing just how long that will last.

Relegation seems to be a constant threat to the Team of Choice. And if Kadodia is unable to sell his club to a sponsor as a PSL side, then what hope does he have of doing so while trapped in the NFD?

A relegated Maritzburg United would mean that Maritzburg would return to the days of being a PSL-less city.

And with the PSL flourishing the way it has done in recent seasons, that is not good news for true football lovers.

It could be even worse.

Relegation will hurt the club so heavily from a financial perspective that there is a realistic concern that it would dissolve.

It’s business, after all.

Maritzburg United chairperson Farouk Kadodia (left) and coach Ian Palmer hope to ensure that Maritzburg United avoid the threat of relegation when the PSL season kicks off next month.

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