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History of South African soccer

2004-05-07 13:32

Cape Town - South African soccer has advanced through decades of denial and disadvantage, through the liberation struggle, to a point where it is now recognised as the country's number one national sport.

The largest number of registered players (1.8 million). The highest television audiences. The greatest number of spectators, week after week. These are the measures of success.

Since the formation of the united South African Football Association in 1991, soccer has made immense strides, establishing a strong infrastructure to channel the people's historic passion for the game, emerging from the days of oppression into a golden era of glory and prosperity.

During the past 12 years, South Africa has established itself as a positive, constructive member of the soccer family, entering teams in every CAF and Fifa competition, right from Under-17s to the top level of the game, where the national team has successfully qualified for the World Cup finals in 1998 and 2002.

Out of darkness, there is hope and confidence.

Hope and confidence that this soccer-mad country where the heroes of the game instantly become heroes of the community, where the beautiful game unites the entire population, where eager spectators pack the stands to support the national side, Bafana Bafana, where impromptu kick-abouts are played until sunset on thousands of dusty open spaces, where the game lives hope and confidence that this country will host the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Yes, everyone is aware of the massive economic opportunity, and everyone is excited by potential benefits for the country but, at its heart and core, South Africa's bid is driven by the people's pure, unadulterated and uncomplicated love of the game.

Racial divisions reflected

This communal passion withstood the challenge of apartheid, and now blooms and grows in the young democracy.

The roots of soccer in South Africa reach far back into the 19th century, when the game's official structures reflected the racial divisions in society at the time.

The "whites-only" Football Association of South Africa, later to be known as Fasa, was formed in 1892, but the SA Indian Football Association (Saifa), the SA Bantu Football Association (Sabfa) and the SA Coloured Football Association (Sacfa) were only launched in 1903, 1933 and 1936 respectively. Amid a blur of acronyms, South Africans played soccer as they lived, apart.

A so-called Inter Race Soccer Board did organise a few games between these racial associations during the 1940s, when there was no law against mixed sport, but any creeping integration was halted by the introduction of formal apartheid laws in 1948.

The geography of South African soccer was set in stone, with whites playing in their own club structures, feeding the "whites-only" national team, and, sentimentally and psychologically, being geared towards Europe. Meanwhile, blacks were left somehow to play the game among themselves, denied facilities and funding.

In 1958, Fifa officially recognised the white body, Fasa, as the sole governing body of soccer in South Africa and the National Football League was launched in 1959 as the country's first entirely professional club league. It was reserved for whites.

Landmark inter-racial match

Two years later, Fasa did include some black players within their structure and, when Fifa suspended South Africa in 1962, the governing body sanctioned a landmark inter-racial match, played between the "white" Germiston Callies and the "black" African Pirates before 10 000 people in Maseru, capital of Lesotho.

In truth, Fasa were whistling against the wind. Hard though they tried to present non-racial soccer in a very racial country, the governing body simply ended up looking foolish. When, in 1963, the Fifa Executive lifted South Africa's suspension, Fasa responded by announcing the country would send a white side to the 1966 World Cup in England, and a black team to Mexico in 1970.

Enough was enough

South Africa was again suspended from Fifa in 1964, and the domestic game erupted in hostility between the establishment Fasa and the "non-racial" body, the SA Soccer Federation (SASF).

In soccer, as in society, unity seemed a pipe dream. Even when yet another inter-racial fixture, between the "white" Highlands Park and the "black" Orlando Pirates was arranged at a venue outside South Africa and approved by Fifa, the then Minister of the Interior threatened to deny passports to everyone who wished to attend and the game was cancelled.

Finally, after the Soweto uprising in 1976, the lights were switched off, and South Africa was formally expelled from Fifa.

In isolated darkness, Fasa was reborn as the Football Council of South Africa, but intermittent unity talks with SASF failed and the game continued to flow in two separate streams.

Inspiring millions

Against all odds, soccer continued to thrive in the townships. Vast, peaceful crowds streamed to township venues like Orlando Stadium in Soweto, saluting heroes who were enshrined in folklore from the Cape to the Limpopo, and even further north. Men like Jomo Sono and Kaizer Motaung and others rose out of the dust, shone brightly and inspired millions.

Today, Sono is a Bid ambassador of the South Africa 2010 campaign and Motaung sits on the Board of the Bid Company. Even now, heroes of the past are working to build the future.

Into the 1980s, the country's amateur soccer structures were still divided but, battling against the apartheid tide, standing brave in the vanguard of change, professional soccer did merge in 1985, under the auspices of a new National Soccer League.

The repeal of apartheid legislation in 1990 started unity talks at every level of South African soccer and, on December 8, 1991, four historically divided and entirely separate bodies finally reached across the negotiating table and founded the South African Football Association on non-racial, democratic principles.

Safa was welcomed into the African fold by an unforgettable standing ovation at the Confederation of African Football's congress of 1992 in Dakar and then jubilantly admitted as a Fifa member at the governing body's congress in June 1992.

Within just three weeks, Safa had arranged for Cameroon to play a series of three matches in South Africa to celebrate the unity process. So, on a wet evening in Durban, on Tuesday July 7, 1992, South Africa hosted its first fully-fledged, completely representative international soccer match at King's Park Stadium in Durban; and the home team won 1-0, thanks to a late penalty by Doctor Khumalo.

Bafana Bafana

The national side became adored as Bafana Bafana translated as "The Boys" and success followed success. Huge waves of support rippled across the country, and a culture was born.

In May 1994, on the very day of his inauguration as President, Nelson Mandela significantly broke away from official celebrations to join an 80 000 crowd at a friendly match between South Africa and Zambia at Ellis Park Stadium. He was ecstatically introduced to both teams during a 35-minute half-time interval; and inevitably, riding a wave of national joy, South Africa won 2-1.

Within a year, Orlando Pirates had won the African Champions Cup, heroically beating ASEC Mimosa in Abidjan, and, early in 1996, South Africa hosted and won the African Cup of Nations.

Behind the triumphant headlines, Safa has diligently created a muscular structure for the game at grass roots, establishing nine provincial affiliates, further divided into 25 regions, nurturing newly qualified coaches nationwide, creating a national academy, running age-group tournaments from Under-12 upwards.

Soccer's vast potential

Today, Molefi Oliphant, serving as the fourth Safa President after Mluleki George, Lesole Gadinabokao and Solomon Morewa, heads a democratically elected 21-man Executive and a large staff charged with the task of realising soccer's vast potential in South Africa.

One of the great success stories of South African sport, Safa energetically pursues the goals of its mission statement:

  • Promoting and facilitating the development of soccer through sustainable infrastructural and training initiatives;
  • Engaging in pro-active dialogue with the government to generate a partnership in recognition of soccer as a national asset;
  • Creating an image as being a stable, progressive and innovative institution;
  • Creating a mutually beneficial relationship with the corporate world; and
  • Contributing to Africa's ascendancy in world soccer through the hosting of major events in Africa, while aspiring and striving to become a leading soccer nation.

    Calm and confident, South African soccer is ready to host the greatest event in the game, to stage the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Roared on by one united nation, Safa is bidding for that opportunity.

    The current Safa structure is detailed below with a proposed LOC structure. - www.sa2010bid.co.za