OPINION PIECE: What’s the future of SA football without development?

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I cannot sit back and bite my tongue any longer.

It has become evident that things fall apart when we turn a blind eye to reality. Something needs to be done to save our most popular sport for the betterment of the South African football ranks. Take a moment and think what’s the future of football without proper development structures in our beloved country?

Currently, Mzansi is facing a tremendous setback when it comes to developing future football stars who will play a crucial role to put our women’s and men’s senior national teams on the map.

The year 2014, the South African Football Association (SAFA) introduced an initiative programme called Vision 2022, which is a fundamental rebuilding of the structures of SAFA at all levels to create the conditions that will bring about the sustained international success of national teams.

However, after six years of the programme being launched, we are still facing problems of creating opportunities for young footballers due to the lack of football development structures which persist especially in disadvantaged black communities.

In conversation with the former Jomo Cosmos and Bafana Bafana defender Andrew ‘Jaws of Life’ Rabutla, who established a football academy in his home province (Limpopo), he stated that it’s very complicated to run an academy as it requires capital and lack of access to funding is a big challenge as it affects the progress of football development.

“For me personally, running an academy is complicated because I run my academy at my own expense. My policy is that I don’t want to charge parents of these youngsters to run the academy. I have tried to approach potential companies that I thought would sponsor the academy, but it’s a pity they don’t want to come to the party,” he adds.

“If you can check Europeans, there’s no way you can run an academy without a sponsorship. I remember when I was still playing in Greece for PAOK, their academy was sponsored by one of the world’s biggest companies starting from their U-12 and that’s why football is growing there.

“Imagine if rural football academies get sponsorships and travel to Cape Town to play against other football academies which will help football grow in the country. And in the process, we manage to get resources and exchange programmes with one another. Despite all the challenges we have to push hard to help these youngsters to become better players in the future,” Jaws of Life concluded.

We can all agree that a successful football development depends largely on effective partnership and networking with a wide range of community groups, facility operators, national governing bodies, local authorities and voluntary groups. But sadly, there are challenges that impede the growth of the beautiful game. I will limit this by looking at the level of football development programmes, facilities, criteria used to select players and the level of sponsorship.

The level of football development programmes

The level of football development programmes in South Africa is moving at a snail’s pace because we lack to enhance unity in diversity through the provision of football initiatives, which affects the progress of our football national teams.

Our football governing bodies always discuss grassroots development plans and the possibilities of working hand in hand with successful football athletes to advance the football development in our country, yet we still see fewer initiative programmes in our rural communities. It is a fact that we have an influx of talented and skilful footballers from all shores and provinces of South Africa which is yet to be seen due to lack of development programmes.

Taking an analogy to the last time Bafana Bafana qualified for the World Cup was back in 2002, and only participated in the 2010 World Cup by being the host country. This shows us how we have failed as a country to produce superstars in our youth ranks, simply because of not prioritizing youth development programmes. So for a correct perspective, one could say that it’s been quite the slump to end up where we are now.

Without a doubt, young people who participate in football development programmes do not only get the necessary skills and knowledge about the beautiful game, but they also get exposed to an amazing childhood experience that sets them up for life, that’s going to give them a set of experiences and skills that they can transfer to any walk of life.

In addition, provincial development structures that are dysfunctional result in programmes and initiatives that are unfocused and ineffective.

The level of football infrastructure (facilities)

Lack of football facilities remains one of the major factors that impede the growth of football development in South Africa. The majority of the teams participating in amateur football lack access to proper facilities. For example, some clubs use school facilities to practice and host matches, but at some point, the school does not allow them to use their facilities due to academic reasons. Therefore, it hampers the progress of football development from the grassroots level.

I believe that there are ways to overcome the challenges of this nature. One may ask how? Well, the municipalities should play their part by consulting relevant stakeholders to find out what sports facilities are needed to be built up in certain areas using their Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) for the betterment of sports development in the country. They can also revisit the budget, monies spent and funds allocated to the grassroots football in South Africa to advance assistance for youth development programmes.

If we look at the provinces that are considered the poorest, the conditions of their stadiums are mostly in a poor state due to a lack of proper management. In the end, some of these stadiums are left neglected and become danger zones. The Lesley Manyathela Stadium in Musina Local Municipality, Limpopo, is a good example in this case.

The criteria used to select players

It goes without saying that football clubs see players as assets. Additionally, in many instances, players are judged on what value they can bring to the club (whether it be monetary or performance). This system affects football down to the lower leagues. In my honest opinion, football scouts who are sent to tournaments should measure the outcome of the players based on their level of football intelligence and quality.

The more our country produces young footballers using the right criteria to select players, it will in turn allow South African football to be more competitive and compete with the best in the world. This can only be done if our clubs develop a habit of promoting young stars from their lower divisions, and also bringing young players from the grassroots level into their respective academies.

The tendency of using elderly players in the top-flight is somehow killing the growth of football in the country. The issue of experience is not always a case to use older players in the field of play. We should use older players to groom young talented soccer players from an early stage to become top-notch Athletes.

The level of sponsorship

In Wikipedia, “Sponsorship is described as the act of supporting an event, activity, person, or organisation financially through the products or services. The individual or group that provides the support, similar to a benefactor, is known as sponsor.”

As the former Ezenkosi defender Rabutla said, sponsorship plays a significant role in sports development. For example, academies may have sponsored kit, equipment, travel, accommodation, competition fees, etc. All of these are beneficial to the success of football development growth in the country. However, it has come to my attention that most of the people who run football programmes in disadvantaged areas don’t know how to go about finding sponsorships, whereas others aren’t lucky enough to get sponsorship when they send their sponsorship request letters.

In my view, the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture needs to bring capacity building programmes to the people to teach them how to acquire sponsorships. Obtaining sponsorship can be a challenging task that can lead to the detriment of football development in South Africa.

In the words of the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, a source of inspiration for me, once said, “Sport has become a world language, a common denominator that breaks down all the walls, all the barriers. Most of all, it is a powerful tool for progress and development.”

This shows how important sport is in our lifetime, and is it up to us to preserve it.

By Mauwane Raophala

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