How Not To Honour Madiba
21 November 2012
I wish I’d been a fly on the wall when Safa’s leadership were making the decision to honour Nelson Mandela each year with a soccer match played for him, a way for South African football to say thank you to him. I can imagine the conversation now… “Hey guys, what about playing a football game once a year to honour Madiba? Just look at how other countries do music concerts for Madiba and it brings the fans in their tens of thousands! And they’re not even South African! This is a no-brainer. South Africa’s biggest sport plays a game for Madiba once a year against top opposition. We’ll have a full stadium watching our boys play on a perfect pitch and all in honour of the great man himself. We will be the envy of African football.”
Last Wednesday night, on a perfect evening for football, against the reigning champions of Africa, just 16 000 people shuffled into the largest football stadium in Africa. Approximately 78 000 seats were left empty. How is that honouring our country’s greatest citizen? You can’t tell me that only 16 000 people care about Bafana. And you can’t tell me that only 16 000 people care about an event honouring Madiba.
Various excuses have been put forward as to why this latest Nelson Mandela Challenge match was such an embarrassment for South African football. Some feel that the fact that it was a midweek game meant it was always going to be a low attendance game, the inference being that South Africans don’t do midweek events. Then there was the economic argument, that people were holding onto their cash to save up for the eagerly anticipated Soweto derby in a few weeks’ time. Transportation and the fact that the stadium is not easily accessible to those walking to the stadium from the surrounding areas were also put out there as a possible deterrent to attending.
Possibly all of the above do play a role to some extent, but when you get right down to it, I think there are two major concerns. The first is that there was clear lack of marketing of this game on the part of Safa. In fact, it seemed many people weren’t even sure which stadium the game was going to be at, with some even thinking that it would be held in PE.
But maybe more significant is the fact that in the aftermath of this failed event, when a local DJ asked Safa president Kirsten Nematandani what the price of a ticket for a Bafana game is these days, Mr Nematandani, and at least he was honest, admitted that he really didn’t know what it costs these days to watch Bafana. Now to me that sounds ludicrous. It would be like Peter du Toit not knowing the cover price of Soccer-Laduma! At the very least, it is a glaring message that at the highest levels, it seems Safa are so preoccupied with internal politics, that they have lost touch with the people. That the gap between the VIP suites and the stadium seats is not a couple of hundred metres up, but rather a chasm that continues to widen. It seems Safa are forgetting what it means to be custodians of the people’s team – Bafana.
Going forward, our suggestion is that Safa use some of the cash from their bulging coffers to do some market research on their fans, their customers, their bosses. Secondly, maybe it’s time to take Bafana to the people.
Nowhere in the world except maybe England, do the national team play all their matches in the main stadium or the main football stronghold of a country. Spain, for example, don’t even have a national stadium and instead take their games to various parts of Spain. Their big qualifiers are played in Madrid, but friendlies are taken to Seville and elsewhere, where the national team gets capacity crowds. Italy do the same.
Similarly, Brazil has no national stadium and instead take their games to all parts of Brazil so that everyone can fall in love with them. Considering that Jo’burg fans have the opportunity to watch the likes of Pirates, Chiefs and Sundowns week in and week out, they are spoilt for big games. With that in mind, why not take Bafana to the Free State? The fans in Bloemfontein love their football and would have filled a stadium for the Nelson Mandela Challenge. Cape Town fans may not fill the stadiums for PSL games, but they do love it when Bafana comes to town.
It’s time for Safa not only to find a way to move Bafana up the Fifa and Caf rankings. It’s time for Safa to find a way to move Bafana into the hearts of each and every South African.