Ladies and gentlemen, it is about time we face reality and call things exactly what they are. For so long, we’ve been waxing lyrical about our DStv Premiership being one of the best in the world and undoubtedly the best in the African continent.
We are, after all, a football-mad country, but it looks like our strength has become our weakness over the years. The game that has brought us so much joy, introduced us to wonderful friendships and widened our scope of contacts whenever we made our trips to the stadium is now hurting us. The love connection is no longer as strong as it was. Something is not right and the game is slowly drifting away from local supporters and that’s a challenge that we have to face and deal with.
A lot of effort has been put into ensuring that our football remains on the map over the years. The Beautiful Game has been able to transcend any political or religious affiliations as the number one sport in the country. Thanks to this game, we’ve witnessed tens of thousands of female supporters flocking to our stadiums to cheer their favourite teams on and enjoy football. The introduction of a professional football league in a male-dominated industry further enhanced the profile of football in this country. While the powers that be at the Houghton-based PSL office have been working around the clock to maintain the high-level professionalism and world-class packaging on television, it is a rather sad and disappointing fact that people are losing interest in South African football! You can blame it on the wide gap that Mamelodi Sundowns continue to open between themselves and the chasing pack, you can blame it on the two Soweto giants, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, not being anywhere near their former glory days after going for so long without silverware, you can blame it on ‘small teams’ taking over or whatever you believe is contributing to the lack of interest, but we can’t deny the fact that people are losing interest and that our football is in danger! Football has always been the number one sport in this country, but if things don’t change, other sporting codes will take over. If you don’t move, you’re likely to be knocked over by those chasing you.
With the advent of technology and the widespread exposure to the international, especially English, football community, the local game has been dealt a terrible blow. If we don’t wake up to this sad reality now, by the time we do, there won’t be anything we can do to reverse the damage. Young kids now look up to the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar Jr, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, among others, instead of our very own and if that’s not a cause for concern, then I really don’t know what is. Back in the day, each and every young South African aspiring footballer had a local idol, but that’s changed. That’s simply because there’s more attention to European football, leaving the local game behind. Our kids are more clued up about international football than our own. There is more interest in international football than the local, which isn’t helping our game in any way.
To some people, football is just a game, but to most South Africans, football is more than just a game. It is a lifestyle, it is a religion, it is who and what we identify with. Football runs in our veins, but things have changed for the worst. Even the television viewership figures can attest to the low interest, which is unheard of in this beautiful country. Without local football, there’s no life to most of us, but it seems like some people have found refuge in international football. With 50% attendance figures approved by the government, it remains to be seen how this will change the worrying trend of lackadaisical interest in local football. It is rather unfortunate that some self-proclaimed supporters don’t even know their own team’s fixture schedule. People don’t even know, let alone care, if their team is playing. This is uncommon in South Africa, a country that prides itself on being a football-crazy lot. No other sport enjoys more love than football in this country, but there is a growing possibility that things might just change.
Maybe Pirates and Chiefs should shoulder the blame for this dilapidating state of affairs because they are two most-supported teams in the country. When they are doing well, the whole country is in a jovial mood and conversely, when they are as deplorable as they’ve been in recent seasons, the morale among football fanatics is at a low. Maybe, just maybe, it is some of their supporters who have decided to take a hiatus from local football until their favourite teams get their act together, harming the local game in the process. The sad reality is that not just the young but even the old switch to European football now instead of our local game. This may not worry some people, even club owners, but if we don’t nip this in the bud, we will lose all the ground we’ve covered so far. It is not just one thing that you can put your finger on that causes this lack of interest, as it is a combination of a lot of things that may seem small but have a huge impact in the bigger scheme of things. Even consistent questionable refereeing decisions do make a mockery of the league and turn people completely off the game they love so much. Officiating is such an integral part of the game that can either make or break it.
People are also going to continue to distance themselves from the game for as long as they are not happy with the way teams are run. When people can’t effect change, all they do is keep their distance and remove any emotional connection. It is not like they enjoy doing it, but it becomes the best thing to do, all things considered, so that they maintain their sanity. It is also a silent vote of no confidence where people suffer in silence because their grievances have not been addressed or even considered. It is better for all of us to collaborate and protect football so that this game doesn’t suffer any more threat than it has already experienced. Whether we are honest enough to admit it or not, our football is in danger and something has to be done to curb this ongoing mishap.
There are also certain individuals who are not helping to improve the game at all. Maybe we need to screen everyone who wants to get into our football space so that we have like-minded people who are in the game with the best interests at heart. Some players don’t get their salaries on time, if at all, from teams and even have their signing-on fees payments delayed for years. There’s so much wrong with our game and it shouldn’t surprise us when people detach themselves from the game they love so much. Our football is dying a slow death and we better wake up and smell the coffee.