Football is, indeed, a Beautiful Game. The scenes that we recently saw at Peter Mokaba Stadium, where Orlando Pirates defender Paseka Mako collided with his own goalkeeper, Richard Ofori, in an attempt to clear the ball away from their danger zone against Baroka FC was further proof of just how this game can bring people together!
The incident also showed what difference this Beautiful Game can make in our society. To see both sets of players and technical team members barricade the scene of the accident was reminiscent of the happenings when Danish footballer Christian Eriksen collapsed and ‘was gone’ after on-field cardiac arrest during a UEFA Euro 2020 match on 12 June 2021. It was super amazing to witness both sets of players covering the scene as it was a sensitive and emotional incident, something no one wants to nor expect to see in a game of football. This was not just bad for Mako, Pirates or his family and friends, it proved to be everyone’s scary and heart-stopping moment because it is not what the Beautiful Game is about.
The unity and co-operation that was shown by the two teams was just a marvel to watch and something we need to encourage, especially at junior and amateur level. There is a lot of disrespect happening in place of unity, competitiveness and the subscription to the “Fair Play” statute in the amateur ranks. Coaches, sometimes, tend to instill wrong habits on the players that come back to haunt them at a later stage of their careers. Instead of teaching them to be competitive, we tend to teach them to see the opposition as an enemy. That’s where we get it wrong on the human side of things. When players see the opposition as an enemy on the field, they treat them just as that – enemies – and that simply means they will use whatever they can to kill each other. They use every weapon to see off the enemy, without even thinking about the human being in the opposition.
When you talk about a competitor or an opponent, it is a different story altogether. There are rules that govern the competition that you’re involved in and that’s what informs and influences your behaviour towards one another. No matter how strong the opponent is against you, they will always be respected when the game is played within the confines of the rules that govern it. You don’t lose self-respect, the respect for the opposition or even the respect for the game. You don’t go out to hurt the next person just because they are giving you a tough time, even if it is to the gallery and appreciation of the supporters. You try to stop them through legal means. You only resort to illegal means when you don’t respect yourself, your team, the opposition or even the game itself.
The level of unity and respect shown by the two teams on the night of Mako’s injury should go a long way in setting an example to everyone out there. Let us not just see it as another injury on the field of play but rather learn from it so that we all become better from the lessons drawn from his injury. No one should get hurt from the game, notwithstanding the competitive nature of it. This is a contact sport and therefore it must be physical, but it doesn’t have to be personal, brutal and career-threatening. It also doesn’t have to sow divisions but rather challenge everyone to become better. We need to pay more attention to the impact we have on the players because we tend to focus more on winning rather than building great human beings and top-quality athletes. Let’s promote love and respect through soccer so that we have players with good hearts, people who will play to win fairly. People who will respect the game and know that the next person, just like them, is someone’s son, brother, husband or father. That’s the nature of teachings we need to start instilling more often, especially at junior and amateur levels, so that the same players go out there and become good human beings and role models in their communities.
It is always good to see the level of respect exchanged by opposition, whether it is supporters and players or coaches, even under difficult and competitive circumstances. At the end of the day, football is called the Beautiful Game for a reason. It was heart-warming to see coach Sead Ramovic and his TS Galaxy charges visiting Mako in hospital. That’s what we need to see more of – love, respect and support for one another – because we are all in this Beautiful Game together. That was a touch of humanity from Galaxy and surely there are other teams who sent messages of support and visited Mako to ensure that he didn’t feel alone.
A few days after Mako’s injury, Cristiano Ronaldo and his partner Georgina Rodriguez lost one of their unborn twins, a baby boy, leaving his sister alone in their mother’s womb. The outpouring of support for CR7 and his family from the Liverpool supporters at Anfield was something to cause goosebumps even to the hardcore criminals. If you understand the history and rivalry between Ronaldo’s Manchester United and Liverpool, you will understand the significance of the support and the standing ovation that the Reds family gave to Ronaldo on the day. They were not the only ones to show support as other English Premiership clubs extended their best wishes and condolence messages. These are teams that would find it difficult to even congratulate one another on the great performances, at least in public and on social media platforms, but when something as tragic as a loss of life happens, even the most bitter rivalry gets put aside, thanks to the Beautiful Game. This further enhances our mantra that football is more than just a game. Let’s look out for one another, play fairly, respect ourselves, the opposition and the game so that we all become better human beings and that will go a long way in impacting our society in a positive way. Be firm but fair in this competitive and physical sport.
On a separate note, congratulations are in order for Richards Bay FC for finally reaping the rewards of their hard work by winning automatic promotion to the DStv Premiership after finishing the season atop the GladAfrica Championship log standings. All the best in the elite league. Let’s also wish Orlando Pirates everything of the best in their CAF Confederation Cup final match against Morocco’s RS Berkane in Nigeria this Friday. This is a perfect opportunity for the team to make history by being the first South African team to win both Confederation and Champions League trophies. They will have to do much better than their second leg match against Al Ahli Tripoli at Orlando Stadium though, losing 1-0 but progressing on 2-1 aggregate, if they are to realise that dream. All the best, Buccaneers!