Sunday, 19 July 2015

A BAD WEEK FOR SOUTH AFRICAN SPORT: honest opinion or reason to flee the country?

TOUGH START: Pirates new keeper Felipe Ovono
I feel like a traitor. Just called my British-born son. Asked him if I’m being fair. But some things HAVE to be said after a week of sporting headlines which make tough reading for South Africans.

Given that our sporting staples  consist largely of a patriotic diet of football, rugby and cricket, perhaps it’s time to think more broadly before somebody accuses me of ignoring England’s current plight at Lord’s.

We shouldn’t ignore the positives: a South African team surviving the rigours of the Tour de France on debut, a couple of better athletics performances on the Golden League track, the Davis Cup win against Ireland at Irene and the number of millionaires with Seffeffriken accents doing well in The Open at St Andrews.

But in the back of my mind there’s a little voice shouting: aaaaaargh. Which brings me back to a sporting week which has been little short of embarrassing for South African sport.

Look, when Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs announced they were both off to Swaziland for a pre-season tournament, it sounded quite exciting despite those asking economic and political questions. The chances of a quick Soweto Derby do decide the Kings Cup before the Carling Black Label Cup gimmick was welcomed by many, even on the artificial surface at the Somhlolo Stadium.

When the mighty AmaKhosi were stuck at 0-0 against Mbabane’s Swallows at half-time, the first doubts began to stir. I tweeted about the possibility of our Soweto giants both failing against Swaziland’s semi-professional hopefuls.

To be honest, the idea of both Chiefs and Pirates failing on penalties, even on a plastic pitch in a minor warm-up in the nation ranked 160 in the world, never really impinged on my thinking. But it happened.

The Buccaneers threw away a 1-0 lead, their new Equatorial Guinea goalkeeper Felipe Ovono was beaten and they joined Chiefs as penalty shoot-out failures, leaving us with Swallows against Royal Leopards in the final. As worrying as anything that happened on the pitch was the South African commentators ignoring the plight of our Soweto giants as a third game in three went to penalties and the Swallows took the silverware.

Of course, it’s not a disaster. Just a pre-season blip. Steve Komphela is no mug. Eric Tinkler has proven his bouncebackability time and again.

But while all this was happening, our mighty Springboks hit a speed bump too, losing their opening Rugby Championship clash against Australia in Brisbane 24-20, throwing away a substantial lead with the World Cup looming and Victor Matfield limping.

And then of course, we have to consider those crushing defeats against Bangladesh last week, which saw the Proteas, after their comfortable T20 success, lose the ODI series in a pair of record-breakingly bad performances which resulted in defeats by 7 wickets and 9 wickets.

Heyneke Meyer, Russell Domingo and Shakes Mashaba are the big national bosses in the big national sports. They all seem to prefer picking old reliables than bright young things, though Kagiso Rabada was a shaft of cricketing sunlight in the ODI disaster. None of them are expensive, imported coaches. All three were cost-effective options after the sudden departure of their predecessors.

But let's be frank: none of them inspire great confidence.

And obviously the chances of all three of our big national teams recovering are good. The Proteas begin their Test series against Bangladesh today, the Springboks could come back and thump the All Blacks and Bafana could yet recover from their opening 0-0 draw against Gambia and qualify for AFCON 2017 with good results against Mauritania and Cameroon.

But Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula is uncharacteristically quiet. One of his most verbal critics, a former CNN sports anchor I’ve know for years, Graeme Joffe, claims he had to leave the country after exposing corruption in numerous South Africa sporting bodies.

He says his life is in danger and has exiled himself in New York. That can’t be right. Sport is all about opinions, and when things go badly on the field of play, criticism is a MUST.

We cannot simply ignore results and trends when things go badly. It’s been a very bad week for South African sport. Let’s just be honest about it. And try to make things better.


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