Bad pitch compromises player safety

2011-04-23 16:43

If you were fortunate enough to watch the African Youth Championship games at Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto this week, you would be forgiven if you thought the boys were just ­having a lousy kick-about of no particular importance.

But now, after what transpired, on a pitch that did not even look fit for a toyi-toyi, I wonder if the Confederation of Football (Caf) takes the Under-20 tournament seriously at all.

The organisers, Caf included, seemed hell-bent on putting the ­actual stakeholders of the game – the players – at risk by using a rugged pitch that was an eyesore even to the TV audience.

The coaches, the players, the media, right up to the fans, all commented on the appalling condition of the Dobsonville ­Stadium’s surface.

After hosting the Moroka Swallows versus Vasco da Gama Absa Premiership fixture last Saturday to four Youth Championship matches 48 hours later and continuous rains in ­Gauteng, the pitch is in a mess.

Yet Caf and the organisers of the event saw fit to allow the games to continue on a turf ­resembling a pigsty when a ­ticket to the Fifa Under-20 World Cup is at stake (for the four teams that reach the semifinals).

In the eyes of the world, South Africa boasts some of the best soccer pitches on the continent, but why insist on using an imperfect surface when Milpark Stadium, by virtue of being the other host venue, could have spared the players the risk of breaking their legs?

Were the organisers so concerned to save expenses that they risked players’ careers, their only source of income?

Everybody knows how dangerous it is to play on such muddy and unplayable pitches, but not those in charge of the tournament, it seems.

Maybe it is true that most of them have never kicked a ball, hence their bizarre decision.

The organising committee and the Caf executives, who addressed the media during last Sunday’s media conference, created the impression that ­Dobsonville would be given a breather.

But alas, Group B teams Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Gambia ran the same risk on the very same pitch, the awful state of which was highlighted by the winning and ­losing coaches alike.

A two-line media statement came just after midday on Tuesday, stating that “matches of the Orange African Youth Under-20 Championship will continue to take place at Dobsonville and Milpark stadiums respectively, as originally scheduled. Tournament director Russell Paul says the decision was made following consultation with various stakeholders including Caf and the Safa president (Kirsten Nematandani).”

If only the said “stakeholders” were the players.

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