Rule 1: Read the rule book

2011-10-15 00:00

ANYBODY who cares to know anything about sport in our country will acknowledge that last weekend was not one of our finest.

Within 12 hours both our Rugby World Cup and Afcon 2012 aspirations were dumped. The Springboks were unlucky. According to the latest Facebook petition aimed at stopping him ever refereeing another match again, I am the 76 393rd person to publically declare that Bryce Lawrence cost us the semi-final against the Matildas.

Yes, I am sure the critics will come up with a host of other reasons as to why we lost, but I feel that Div, Smit and the rest of the old boys did us proud. On another day, with a less ridiculous whistle blower, we would have been doing business with the All Blacks tomorrow. The Boks can hold their heads up high and know that they gave it their all.

What happened in Nelspruit the night before, though, was possibly the most embarrassing moment in our post-democratic sporting history. Have you ever seen an entire team’s management stuff something up that royally in all your life? I certainly haven’t. A media colleague who flies the flag for Pitso Mosimane pointed out instances such as Kamp Staaldraad, “Hansiegate” and the 2003 Cricket World Cup Duckworth/Lewis miscalculation as moments where we have been left possibly even redder in the cheeks as a sporting nation.

But what Pitso Mosimane and the rest of the Bafana Bafana management did, or failed to do, smacks of incompetence. After the successes of the 2010 World Cup Safa is now in a solid enough financial position to ensure that they have all the resources in the world available to them. We are a footballing nation who are supposed to be ever-improving, taking advantage of what happened in 2010 and using it to become an African powerhouse once more.

The fact that we didn’t qualify for next year’s Afcon is bad enough. But it is the way that we failed to qualify that makes the situation so difficult to stomach. It was blatantly obvious that Mosimane and everybody else in the Bafana set-up were oblivious to the rules of the Afcon qualification process. Instead they thought that goal difference would be enough to take them through ahead of Niger and Sierra Leone. When the final whistle blew and the country thought that we had qualified, Bafana’s celebrations were so exaggerated that they would have rivaled those of a World Cup winning team.

What’s more, they were arrogant. SABC presenter Marks Maponyane’s post-match interview, when he introduced Sierra Leone manager Lars-Olof Mattsson as the “losing coach”, testified to the arrogance. The match ended 0-0, and the only losers on the day were Bafana, who would later learn that, in fact, a head-to-head points accumulation format would be used to determine which of the three sides topped the group. Poverty-stricken Niger would have the last laugh.

If we had failed to qualify because we weren’t good enough, then that would be easier to understand. We will never know if that was the case, though, as Itumeleng Khune and his team-mates decided that they needn’t try and win the game.

Now Pitso was not the only one who was incorrectly informed. Fans and media throughout South Africa believed that goal difference would be enough. But the fact that we were all wrong does not let anybody off the hook. Somebody at Safa needs to take responsibility for this mess.

Surely, before a ball is kicked or a lap run at training, the coach of the team need to know the rules of the competition. And if he fails to do that, he has surely failed at the most fundamental level and what happens after that should be irrelevant. Surely the punishment for such an inexcusable error should be instant dismissal.

Having said that, I doubt very much that this will happen. Other than in his last two matches in charge, Pitso has brought a positivity to Bafana that has seen them climb steadily up the Fifa rankings.

He has gotten the best out of his players, for the most part, and won over critics with his knowledge of the game and with his emphasis on structural discipline. He has been a good coach. But is that enough? There are lots of “good coaches” out there. Ask Steve McLaren what happens to a “good” English coach who fails to earn qualification for Euro. It is simply not acceptable. He learnt that the hard way. Why shouldn’t Pitso?

Whatever Safa decide to do, there is one positive that emerges from this horrific experience. Bafana Bafana fans can be assured that no coach will ever make the same mistake again, and that the ability to read a rule book will now always be a prerequisite for the job whenever it is advertised.

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