Monday, 11 November 2013

Two good reasons to celebrate Orlando Pirates unexpected progress to the African Champions League final: two clubs, no lasers

Under the spotlight: Senzo Meyiwa is lit up by laser
beams wielded by unruly Al Ahly fans in Cairo

IT took one interview and a quick phone call to finally bring the footballing authorities to THIS startling revelation: Green laser beams are BAD for the African Champions League.

South African viewers on SABC and SuperSport were infuriated during Orlando Pirates 2-0 defeat against mighty Egyptians Al Ahly on Sunday night in Cairo with their players constantly picked out by the annoying green lights.

Annoying? According to the experts (including the Royal Institute for the Blind), the hand-held lasers – smaller than a torch, about the size of a pen – can DAMAGE the sight of footballers targeted by unruly fans.

I made my debut on South Africa’s 24-hour news channel ANN7 today (see video below) and chatted to Peter van Onselen on his brand new lunch-time news show Express Lunch, making the point that lasers are BANNED in European sports stadiums (and in the US and Australia, though apparently it’s still a problem in Latin America).

Following a spate of idiots shining lasers in the eyes of airline pilots at major airports, injudicious use of the “laser lights” – originally developed to assist army snipers and marketed as a tool for university lecturers to highlight salient points to students – now involves heavy fines and even jail sentences.

But despite the use of lasers in Pirates’ two group games in Egypt and in the semi-final against Esperance in Tunisia, CAF chose to erm… turn a blind eye.

It was only thanks to complaints from sports minister Fikile Mbalula and Buccaneers coach Roger de Sa that I was able to call new SAFA president Danny Jordaan after my ANN7 interview and ask: What will be done?

Danny told me: “Yes, we are aware of the problem and the outcry around the country about the lasers in Cairo. We are writing a letter of complaint to CAF and FIFA about their use.”

Like me, Jordaan is concerned that nobody was searched going in to the ground and the stewards did not act against the fans using the lasers at the jam-packed Arab Contractors Stadium. He said: "This is on the record, I'm happy for you to put this out. We had to act."

With any luck, Jordaan’s complaint – the 2010 World Cup organiser has real influence at CAF and FIFA – will enable Kaizer Chiefs to represent South Africa in the 2014 African Champions League without that particular problem.

But there are other reasons for South Africans to celebrate Orlando Pirates’ epic crusade through the continent over the past six months. Amid the debate between the AmaKhosi and the Ghost over just how much celebrating we should be doing around a final defeat, it’s worth noting that the FOUR points Pirates earned for losing in Cairo will earn an automatic second place in the Champions League in 2015.

And if Kaizer Chiefs (and Platinum Stars in the Confederations Cup) get to the group stages, South Africa are guaranteed a second major rise up the CAF club rankings in 2016 after a decade in the doldrums.

The current top twelve, in order and based on results over the past five years in both CAF competitions, looks like this: Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, Morocco, DRC, Algeria, Mali, Congo, Angola, Cameroon, Ghana

But Pirates unexpected progress via the Comores, Zambia, DRC (though we never got to see it on the television), Congo, Tunisia and Egypt (thrice) means South Africa should move ahead of both Ghana (11 points) and Cameroon (12 points) next year.

For that reason alone, Roger de Sa and his Pirates deserve credit. But it won’t come easy. Given their current position in the PSL (they’re rock-bottom) and a seven-match streak in the Champions League which ended LLDDDDL, he’s already under pressure as the fireworks cool in Cairo.

But if the Buccaneers WIN all their six or seven games in hand, they can go five points clear of current leaders Mamelodi Sundowns. It's a big IF. But that might quiet the critics. Roger that.

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