Thanks Obama, but we do things a little differently

2008-11-07 00:00

IN the week when Barack Obama was elected to become the 44th president of the United States, Irvin Khoza will today be re-elected unopposed as chairman of the Premier Soccer League.

Listeners calling Radio Metro seemed to reflect the mood sweeping through the entire world when, asked to provide their views on the state of South African soccer, they started to suggest it was time for change and perhaps for some new faces to run the game.

When America sneezes, does even the PSL catch a cold?

Change is almost always an attractive proposition, since it panders to the endemic human condition of being less than content with the status quo. Every person who feels they have some reason to grumble and complain — and there are preciously few who don’t — will listen to anybody offering “change”.

Obama has made history by promising to deliver what he has repeatedly called “change we can believe in”. For the past 21 months, he has travelled the length and breadth of his country asking vast audiences if they think they can change America. “Yes, we can,” his adoring disciples have shouted back.

The Democratic candidate has made little mention of any precise policies. He has said he will bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to an end, but he has not said exactly how or when. He has promised to restore America’s battered image around the planet, but he has not explained how. He has said he will introduce measures to ease the economic crisis, but again he does not come across as a man for detail.

Clearly none of this bothered the 65 million Americans who voted for him on Tuesday. For them it was more than enough that the charismatic senator from Illinois had promised “change”. That was all. He brilliantly presented the vision and, with tears in their eyes, they excitedly closed the deal.

Only in America … U.S. politics is a policy-free zone where all that matters is the caricature personality of the candidates: this election was a choice between two brands — John McCain, an American hero who spent five years as a prisoner-of-war, and Obama, a personification of the American dream that anybody can reach the top if they work hard. It was Burger King or McDonalds, Pepsi or Coke.

Only in America … during his victory speech on election night, Obama gazed across at his young daughters, told them he loved them “more than words can say” and then, in all seriousness, announced they had earned the right to have the puppy that will go with the First Family to the White House. If Kgalema Motlanthe had made the same promise to his children at Tuynhuis, he would have been rightly ridiculed.

Even so, Obama clearly makes many millions of Americans feel good about themselves and, so long as he surrounds himself with experts to do the detail, he may well prove that, like Ronald Reagan before him, the most gifted actors generally make for the most successful presidents.

For all his talents, Irvin Khoza is no actor, and it is a fair bet that when he stands to deliver his chairman’s address to the annual meeting of the Premier Soccer League this morning, he will not be informing the assembled club delegates and officials about any plans he may have to buy a new dog.

Instead, he will remind them about the remarkable progress the PSL has made over the past 12 months; he will tell them about the broadcast rights agreement with SuperSport, and the previously unimagined sponsorship deals signed with Absa, Nedbank, MTN and Telkom. He will conclude that much has been achieved in recent months, and he will implore his colleagues to be confident and brave, and to embrace the many challenges that remain.

Then, when he sits down, if any of the club delegates stands up and, with one eye on recent events in the U.S., wonders whether it is time for “change” in South African soccer, the chairman would surely be well within his rights to reply with an American saying of his own.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The PSL ain’t broke.

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author, former CEO of SA Rugby, general manager of SABC sport and involved in various SA bid campaigns.

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