Quinton Fortune: World Cup Hosting Has Not Benefited South African Football

By | September 24th, 2014 | 6 Comments

Photo by Marc Fletcher http://imbiza.matrix.msu.edu/?p=173

Quinton Fortune played seven seasons with Manchester United and 46 times for South Africa. On September 23, he wrote an excellent piece in The Guardian about a topic dear to me and to many readers of this blog: the impact of the 2010 World Cup on the growth and development of South African football.

Given the billions of rands spent on new and revamped stadiums and transport infrastructure, Fortune asks, was hosting the tournament a boon for the local game? “Judging by the poor attendances at top-flight games not involving the country’s two most popular clubs, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, who are also by far the most powerful in financial terms, and the poor performances of the national team Bafana Bafana, the answer unfortunately has to be a resounding ‘no’,” Fortune writes.

His concerns are numerous, important, and inter-related. The World Cup, Fortune asserts, did nothing to alter the Chiefs-Pirates duopoly, which continues to capture the lion’s share of the attention from fans, media, and sponsorship money. He points out that the quality of play in the Premier Soccer League is not terribly good, as evidenced by last year’s top scorer, Bernard Parker, boasting a meager 10 goals.

Fortune then notes how the swanky World Cup stadiums in Cape Town, Nelspruit, Polokwane, and Port Elizabeth are now massive financial drains on local municipalities struggling to deal with many pressing social needs in perhaps the most unequal country in the world.

The former Man United midfielder does not spare the PSL’s satellite broadcaster, SuperSport, which bankrolls the South African league while offering 24/7 matches and highlights of European football (such as EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Champions League). This contradiction is another reason why the PSL is “losing fans who prefer to watch the football from the comfort of their homes, receiving high definition pictures, while also having a choice of watching (better quality) football from other parts of the world,” says Fortune.

The way forward, Fortune concludes, requires harnessing South Africa’s world-class infrastructure and abundance of football talent to forge “a well-planned development programme which will develop that talent into realising its full potential.” How this should be done is the challenging part.

Research Forum on South African Football: Mapping the Field

By | May 3rd, 2013 | 1 Comment

Guest Post by *Marc Fletcher

Gloomy skies and wet weather greeted the Research Forum on South African Football held at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) last month. The bleak conditions made for an intimate crowd, but the academics, journalists and sports practitioners in attendance were rewarded with three strikingly different presentations on varying aspects of the “beautiful game” in South Africa. The aim of the forum was to advance the specialized study of soccer in the country and beyond.

First up was Chris Bolsmann, a South African sociologist based at Aston University, Birmingham. His paper entitled “Professional Football in Apartheid South Africa: Leisure, Consumption and Identity in the National Football League, 1959-1977” provided a rich history of the whites-only National Football League (NFL) during apartheid. The common misconception of South African football is that it has historically been, and continues to be, an exclusively black, working-class game. Yet, Chris’s work challenges such a perception and begins to reconstruct a past that is often forgotten or even ignored. Matches in this white league were staged in front of segregated crowds. A successful corporate affair, the NFL attracted a host of world-renowned players, including George Best and Bobby Charlton. In concluding that the NFL became the leisure and sporting entertainment of choice for significant numbers of white and black (particularly Indian and Coloured) South Africans, this history emphasized how football in South Africa has had a more diverse support base than is often acknowledged.

My paper on “Divisions, Difference and Encounters in Johannesburg Soccer Fandom,” explored contemporary cultures of fandom beset by race and class divisions, where domestic football is regularly constructed as an Africanized space without white supporters. However, through an ethnography of Kaizer Chiefs, Bidvest Wits, and Manchester United supporters’ clubs in Johannesburg, I began to explore the deeper complexities, where supporters on the margins of these groups began to engage with the other. In doing so, some fans challenged these social barriers in football and thus reinterpreted their understanding of soccer fandom and their wider experiences of everyday life in the city.

Chris Fortuin, based in the Department of Sport and Movement Studies at UJ, gave the third paper–an eye-opening account of the grim state of youth development in South African football. It was alarming to hear the inadequate ratio of qualified youth coaches to players in South Africa compared to some of the giants of international soccer, especially Spain. The shortage of such coaches, along with the absence of a coherent development plan at the national level, is harming the game at all levels and has contributed to the malaise of the men’s national team, Bafana Bafana.

The presentations encouraged members of the audience to think more seriously about football as an academic field of inquiry. During the second half of the forum panelists responded to numerous questions from the floor. One question stuck out, one that is often asked; why are black South Africans not writing about this subject? It is true that much of what is written on the subject is by foreigners like me. But a main goal of football scholars, regardless of origin, is to empower South African students in the humanities and social sciences (and other fields) with tools and desire to critically engage with football studies.

With questions on the presentations filling up the second half, the question of where does the academic study of South African football go from here was left unresolved. Events such as the UJ forum can play a vital role in motivating South African scholars to research and write about their game. Clearly, football is a legitimate and fascinating area of research. But many more events like the forum are needed to further develop the field and chart future directions.

To this end, readers of this blog who are in the Johannesburg area, are welcome to attend the UJ Wednesday Seminar Series on Wednesday, May 8, at 3:30pm, where I will be presenting a paper entitled “Reinforcing Divisions and Blurring Boundaries: Race, Identity and the Contradictions of Johannesburg Soccer Fandom.” For details about the event click here.

The journey continues.

*Marc Fletcher, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Johannesburg, blogs at One Man and His Football: Tales of the Global Game. Follow him on Twitter: @MarcFletcher1

PSL = Premier Soweto League?

By | November 22nd, 2010 | 4 Comments

Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs will meet in the Telkom Knockout Cup final at Soccer City on December 4. That’s the fifth Soweto classic of the 2010-11 season, and it’s not Christmas yet.

With the rest of the PSL attracting small crowds after the 2010 World Cup, it is once again the two most popular and richest clubs in South Africa which are expected to generate excitement, entertainment and, most importantly, revenue.

Supporters of Pirates and Chiefs claim, with some legitimacy, that their sides fully earned the right to play in the League Cup final. Bucs fans point to their side’s pair of impressive 3-0 away wins against SuperSport United and Maritzburg United on the road to the final. The Amakhosi faithful proudly note how Chiefs’ defense has not conceded a goal in the entire competition.

But the recent controversy surrounding the selection of venue for the Maritzburg United – Pirates semifinal strongly suggests that the football-media-business complex that runs the seventh-richest league in the world massaged the outcome so that the final would feature the Soweto derby.

The story goes something like this: Maritzburg United’s shock victory against Sundowns in the quarterfinal set up a home match against Pirates. By chance, the November 21st Telkom Cup semifinal was scheduled five days ahead of a league clash between the same sides at Harry Gwala Stadium in Pietermaritzburg.

Suddenly, the PSL announced that, due to safety and security concerns at Harry Gwala, the Cup semifinal was being moved to Chatsworth stadium in Durban. League officials produced a letter from South African Police Force headquarters that allegedly prevented them from approving the 12,000-seat stadium as a Cup venue. The league’s decision proved deeply unpopular in KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial capital.

In response, Maritzburg United officials flew to Johannesburg to meet with the PSL in a last-ditch attempt to move the game back to the club’s home ground. Club officials produced an official statement by the Pietermaritzburg police that guaranteed spectators’ safety at the grounds and underlined how capacity crowds against Pirates in February and Chiefs in September were handled efficiently and without incident. Moreover, Maritzburg United’s representatives highlighted the PSL’s contradictory position, which deemed Harry Gwala stadium safe for the PSL match on Friday, November 26, but unsafe for the Cup tie.

The sending off of coach Ernst Middendorp in the 43rd minute and of substitute Felix Obasa in the 83rd simply confirmed Maritzburg’s worst fears. “For a small but competitive team like Maritzburg it’s tough enough to play Pirates on a level playing field,” wrote Marc Strydom of The Witness, Pietermaritzburg’s daily newspaper. “But when the odds are stacked against you by the PSL removing home-ground advantage then it’s even tougher.”

As the “home fans” left Chatsworth stadium, they could be excused for wondering whether PSL stood for “Premier Soweto League.”

The Bull

By | May 31st, 2010 | No Comments

Hopefully the World Cup will shine the light on South Africa’s rich football history. Like the story of of Simon “Bull” Lehoko, a star defender of the 1970s and 1980s with Vaal Professionals and Kaizer’s Chiefs. In this video profile by journalist Leoni Marinovich (for the Twenty Ten project), Lehoko talks about the annual “multi-racial matches”–specifically the 1981 edition–arranged between the White XI and African XI as a sign of political “reform.” It was all politically dubious and some of the white players were often openly racist, but the players enjoyed these match ups. And saw in them what could have been. So did some white football fans.