Thursday, September 11, 2008

South Africa: It's Getting Bad

Now that South Africa have been eliminated from playing in the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola ahead of hosting the 2010 World Cup, many in the nation are blaming the South African Football Association (Safa) for their football development programs.

Safa chief
Raymond Hack doesn't respond kindly to these critics, calling them "idiots who do not know what development is."

It's getting nasty down in South Africa.

Safa has been under fire for its lack of development structures both from former coaches and the South African Parliament's sports portfolio committee.

Bafana Bafana have been performing dismally since 1996 when they were crowned champions at the African Cup of Nations. When former Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira joined the national team as head coach, he stated that much needed to be done by Safa to develop young players for 2010.

Referring to the nation's population, Hack quipped that each one of the 50-million Bafana Bafana supporters across the country always has something to say about the players and football development.

"If they know better, they should be the national coach. People like Neil Tovey [former captain], who has been fired many times as a coach, and Ted Dumitru talk nonsense and rubbish when they talk about the national team. Dumitru is a 78-year-old who watches English football on television and has failed as a national coach.
We have 52 Safa regions across the country and we train coaches who coach in those leagues. They select players for the regions and compete in competitions that we organize. People have no clue but just talk whatever they feel like talking," fumed Hack.

When Parreira took over as coach he was amazed at the lack of functional junior structures and suggested that leagues for under-16, under-18 and under-20 players be established.

Last weekend, Bafana Bafana lost 1-0 against Nigeria in a match that ended South Africa's dreams of participating at the 2010 African Cup of Nations.

This is widely seen as a disgrace for a country that will host the 2010 World Cup. On Tuesday, they lost 1-0 to Guinea in a match watched by about 2,000 fans. Ranked 70th in the world by FIFA and 16th in Africa, Bafana Bafana have had 11 coaches since 1992.

Cedric Frolick, deputy chairperson of the parliamentary sports portfolio committee, said Bafana Bafana's dismal performances are not doing justice to the majority of black South Africans who follow the game.

"Football is still seen as a black sport, but because of incompetent people it has become a laughing stock especially leading up to 2010. When you compare it with rugby and cricket, even those two codes are not doing well at the moment but at least you can see that there are development plans."

"We have always asked Safa about their development programs but until today we haven't gotten any answers ... We have competent people who can do the job better and I think they need to be given a chance," Frolick said.

He added that Safa will be invited to Parliament to explain why Bafana Bafana have fared so badly.

"Hack should stop saying that there is a plan for 2010 because it doesn't exist. Last year when we invited Safa to Parliament to present this plan they didn't, but instead sent us documents to read which we could not understand. We want to interact with them," said Frolick.

A fuming Hack responded that Parliament is not composed of football experts, saying their job is to facilitate and provide infrastructure."We gave them [Parliament] the documents and that was enough. Their job is not to question us on what and how we do it."

One of Hack's targets, former Bafana Bafana coach Dumitru, said the national team's poor performance over the years has caused "too much pain to the nation".

"It is not a matter of good selection, or style of play, or the Brazilian coach, but because we don't have the quality players to match the standard of teams like Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana.

"We still call players that we did eight years back but who haven't helped the team perform better. Some players are not even playing for their teams, yet they are being selected," said Dumitru.

Dumitru said Hack should stick to finding sponsorships for the national teams and leave the technicalities of the game to the experts.

Luke Masomere, coach of Harare team Caps United, said it is not "normal at all" for a country of South Africa's size and importance to fail to qualify for Angola 2010. "This development doesn't augur well for 2010. It will kill local interest in the game."

Previous World Cup hosts France won the final in 1998, co-hosts South Korea reached the semifinal in 2002 and Germany reached the semis at the 2006 World Cup.

Masomere questioned why South Africa employed Parreira in the first place. "He struggled at the last World Cup in Germany with more talented players. South Africa has impressive local coaches, these are the guys that won them the cup in 1996," he said, referring to AmaZulu coach Clive Barker.

Masomere, who has also coached in Botswana, said the departure of Parreira had presented Safa with a "glorious opportunity" to have a local coach.

"That was a strange decision," he said of the decision to hire Joel Santana. "The results to prove that are there. Santana is a club coach, not a national coach."

MY POV: There is a whirlwind of disagreement over the direction of the South African game ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Many believe the blame lies with the people running the game. One would think the talent on the field could do better, but for some reason Bafana Bafana can't put it together.

Would it be a grave embarrassment should South Africa fail to make it out of the group stage in their World Cup?

I guess so. But at the same time, the Cup could induce more interest in the game, especially if it's seen as merely a 'black sport', as Frolick says above.

The Cup's coming and South Africa have many issues to deal with ahead of the games, from infrastructure to security. One can only hope that this issue doesn't cause the country more anxiety ahead of an already-anxiety inducing tournament.

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