Brendon Shields
Brendon Shields

Saving Bafana

The single biggest threat to our national soccer team is our national hockey team. Allow me to explain:

Our soccer is average because the sport is cultivated outside of any centres of excellence. Rugby for example is cultivated in former Model C schools and private schools with ample resources and a disciplined work ethic. The same goes for cricket. Yes there are a minority of stars born and bred in the townships that are lucky enough to come through the system as a result of their extraordinary talent coupled with quotas in sport, but they are few and far between.

The vast majority of Springbok rugby players and Protea cricketers learn their skill and their discipline in environments equipped to excel. Soccer players are not this fortunate. While the sport is supported and played with passion in just about every rural and township school, these schools simply do not have the resources to deliver excellent sportsmen and women when compared to the rest of the world. The system is geared towards supplying players to Chiefs and Pirates — both of whom will then go on to lose against the Lesotho Defence Force or some obscure village team somewhere in Africa.

Average schools mostly deliver average sportsmen and women. It’s as simple as that. The Bafana feeder system is an average one and as a result the team will have great hairstyles but never win anything that matters.

Now ask yourself this: “If South Africa has these excellent sporting schools feeding their rugby and cricket teams, why the same schools cannot feed our soccer team?” The answer is simple: these schools prioritise hockey over soccer. In my opinion they do so because soccer was foolishly associated with ”black people”, and shunning a proper soccer programme at school ensures you keep the darkies out. The above sentence contains concepts so beautifully fuct-up and wrong in every way — yet how many of you are willing to fight to the death (or at least until the bar closes) to prove me wrong?

I do not want to get into a political debate as to why schools historically acted this way or why some continue to. I can merely post the above paragraph on News24 and the comments section will do the rest. This article however is about Bafana and why our football is so bloody mediocre.

Back to rugby and cricket, both these codes have benefited greatly from an influx of black players into the sports. Black players brought along with them a different culture and made our national teams more diverse not only in colour or race but also in our game strategy. No white player can do what an Aplon and De Jong can do and those Springboks make us a much more dangerous team to defend against. Bafana does not benefit from this cultural diversity.

Take the average Afrikaans kid. In his genes, among his African characteristics you will find German, Dutch, French and English ”blood” — all of them countries that are not too shabby at football. A great many of these kids attend well-resourced schools with an already established culture of excellence, yet even these predominantly Afrikaans schools now field hockey teams? Pardon my ignorance but the last time I checked South African hockey offered no real threat to world superpowers of the sport. We try, but we are not flash, despite our hockey players being cultivated almost exclusively in rich private schools? So why bother?

Why don’t the South African Football Association (Safa), along with government not transform football by incentivising Model C schools and private schools to establish football programmes? It’s not so much about getting more white kids to play the game. Rather it’s a strategy to move football from a purely under-resourced field to a well-resourced one. With their crisp sporting fields and in-house gyms and dieticians and their existing work ethic I am willing to bet good money that in 10 years’ time a St Johns versus Afrikaans High School Pretoria derby will yield excellent quality football players to improve our current stock. And it can happen soon — provided hockey takes a back seat.

Who knows, maybe if your St Stithians and Bishops enter the arena of football Safa will be forced to spend money on academies and other centres of excellence to ensure the township kid does not fall further behind? Or do we wait another 30 years to host a tournament so that our mediocre boys in yellow can again make us proud by ”at least making the quarter-finals”?

What do you think? What solutions do you have to offer? Attack or debate me on twitter @brendonshields or on this blog.

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