MAJOR developments in recent times have underlined the old notion that in sport, as in life, South Africans have to take the good with the bad, while continuing to hope for a reduction of the bad through the emergence of far more visionary interventions by the leaders in sport.
These multiple happenings of a roughly one-step-forward-one-step-back nature, have occurred in all the major codes and together would have touched the majority of people in South Africa’s creditably large sporting community of participants, spectators, technicians, administrators, investors and various concerned government departments.
Among these were the Springboks’ contrasting outlooks on performance and transformation, the gutsy South African senior women’s football team reaching the final of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations and qualifying for the World Cup, the eventual launch of the Mzansi Super League T20 competition (MSL) by Cricket South Africa, and “couch potatoes” having to endure load shedding during their favourite sports broadcasts.
Most rugby critics seem happy with the work done by Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus this year in terms of the shape of his team, with progress highlighted by a stunning away win over world champions New Zealand.
They have spoken or written of there being a better direction in team matters and a greater feeling of pride in the jersey by selected players. But that hype is much reduced by Erasmus’s unsatisfactory win ratio and the number of players of colour he has (not) used, especially in his starting line-ups. This could lead to a situation where Erasmus wins the World Cup, but transformation has not progressed forward enough. Indeed, it would be one step forward and one step back again.
On the soccer front, coach Desiree Ellis’s youthful national team did well to finish runners-up in the Women’s Afcon in Ghana at the weekend without having lost a match in normal time, thereby securing a berth in the final of the Women’s Football World Cup in France next year. This comes after years of struggle in the women’s game, and Ellis has commented passionately that much more support is needed going forward.
In celebrating this good development , fans seemingly have to forget that Ellis’s team, including the goalkeeper, should have done better in the penalty shoot-out against Nigeria on Saturday. Further big Afcon news came our way in the ensuing hours when SA Football Association president Danny Jordaan said the Confederation of African Football has asked SA to bid for the 2019 tournament as a replacement for stripped hosts Cameroon.It may produce a sense of pride to think that South Africa is the only place on the continent that is really able to take over the 24-team tournament at such short notice, thanks largely to the 2010 World Cup stadia. But too many of those venues are now “white elephants” and South African citizens should not feel any guilt in asking the government to think very carefully about possibly bankrolling the tournament when there are so many pressing needs in the land. Cricket-wise, the MSL was finally launched in mid-November as a big boost for the sport in SA, but it seems to have big quality and popularity issues, with a limited number of foreign stars being able to play the whole tournament, and limited bums on seats, or grass, are plain to see. Critically, many players seem to be earning money for doing very little in this launch phase of the competition. Too many of them have produced below-par figures, too many of them are not available for all matches, and too many of them can, frankly, escape any form of punishment because it is, well, the inaugural version of the event. Clearly, CSA will have to do some serious introspection at the end of this event. For sure, South Africa, as a middle-income country, appears to have much more sport on the go than some other countries, but things would be even better if we had wiser and less-selfish administrators in general, as well as a government that wasn’t affecting sports matters negatively through economic stagnation and bad policies. • Carl Peters is the sports editor of The Witness.