South Africa’s preparations for next year’s Africa Futsal Cup of Nations are being hampered by a lack of regular training facilities in the city.Twelve of the 14-man national men’s futsal team are Pietermaritzburg-based, and they say they have been unable to train and prepare effectively for next year’s prestigious competition in Morocco. Futsal is five-a-side football, and is usually played on a wooden surface. It was introduced to South Africa in the late 1990s by the South African Indoor Football Association (Saifa), a Pietermaritzburg organisation, which has for nearly two decades tried to get a dedicated facility for the sport, to no avail.Now the team has raised serious concerns about their preparations for the eight-team tournament, fearing that they are falling behind other competing countries. This is another example of a sport breaking down in the city, with The Witness having reported this week that local soccer is declining because of a lack of maintenance at fields. Pietermaritzburg has a proud futsal history. In March 2004, South Africa became the first African country to host a Fifa referees’ coaching course for futsal, but it was held at a high school because of a lack of facilities. The city has two futsal teams, Maritzburg Hotspurs and Young Natalians, which are made up in part of former professional PSL players.Since at least 2004, Saifa has tried to lobby Msunduzi to take over the Errol Mantle Sports Centre in the local branch of the YMCA, which has a suitable playing surface for futsal. This would have allowed local teams to regularly host games and to practise. As things stand, local players have to make do with infrequent sessions at the YMCA court, use school facilities, or travel to Durban or Howick to practice. Poobi Govindasamy, the chairperson of Saifa and who was involved in bringing the sport to South Africa, said there was no dedicated arena for futsal in the city. “What happens is that we have to sometimes use the YMCA, or school facilities. But these aren’t always available and it comes with extra costs. The YMCA, for example, is booked most of the time with other events. School or university facilities also aren’t always available.”He said: “All the great Brazilian and Argentinian soccer players started with futsal. It is an important sport, but we are not being recognised for it.”But Clinton George, the CEO of the local YMCA, said there has never been a directive from any authority saying that Saifa was entitled to the Errol Mantle Sports Centre. He said the YMCA has a good relationship with local sports teams, and that they do accommodate futsal players as often as they can. He said the YMCA had to fulfil its mandate of uplifting youth and promoting sport, which it was doing, and did not believe the YMCA was putting its interests before Saifa’s, saying there was “never any restriction” for futsal playing.Msunduzi was asked what it made of this matter, but did not respond to a query. The team’s coach, local man Gregory Nair, complained that the majority of his team have been having to train on an irregular basis, and may lack the sharpness of the other countries come next year’s tournament. He said other African countries had “world-class” facilities, and were usually shocked at the lack of facilities in the country. “It’s a major concern for me. A team like, say, Egypt, has been training throughout the year. So they will come to the tournament fully prepared and we may be nowhere near that.” He said KwaZulu-Natal regularly produced the country’s best futsal players, adding that it was a shame that there were few places to play. Nair said his players were training twice a week, when they should be ideally training daily.