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Back You are here: Home Sports Soccer Soccer: When Will Its Time Come?
Tuesday, 28 January 2014 00:00

Soccer: When Will Its Time Come?

Written by  Jaco Zeeman

The huge passion for soccer in this country is crying out for some direction to get our national team on track. It’s time for us to regain our former glory of winning the African Nations Cup in the 1990’s and build steadily towards the 2018 World Cup. The successful hosting of the 2010 Soccer World Cup and the 2013 African Cup of Nations, along with the hearty performances by the players, indicate that the stage has been set to take our beloved soccer team right to the top.

 

With a country of approximately 50 million inhabitants, along with a couple of million exiles, who qualify for the Bafana Bafana team, there should surely be enough talent to produce 11 outstanding soccer players to represent the ambition of our proud nation? The question then is: where are they and why are they not coming through the system?

Our success at international level in some sporting disciplines, such as rugby and cricket, is definitely not a result of any form of genetic predisposition, or an intrinsic motivation to achieve at the highest level, but rather the result of the huge effort of many stakeholders over a long period of time. Rugby and Cricket have taken off as a result of the well-established structures at national and provincial level. Extensive remodelling and huge investment, particularly from government have ensured that ample resources are allocated to promote these sports from grassroots level all the way to the national side. This investment has yielded enormous returns over the long term with both the Proteas and the Springboks achieving great success.

It is time for soccer to be strongly promoted within the schooling system. If we analyse the existing state of affairs, then we will find two over-arching obstacles which are currently preventing soccer from becoming the sport of choice for the average South African scholar.

The traditional rugby schools in the country usually offer hockey in the winter season for the boys who do not want to play rugby. Many schools simply do not have sufficient enrolments to slice the pie three ways and still produce good results all-round. Grey Bloem, however, has managed to make the mind-shift and is now offering soccer as a third option in the winter season, without compromising results.

Three major sports in a season will create huge pressure on facilities and staff in an already pressured environment. To fit in 20 games from U14A to U19G on one given Saturday morning in two sporting codes require military precision to remain on schedule, a third offering will without a doubt produce chaos. Soccer coaches are not easy to find, taking into account that our teachers come from the same system, with very little background and exposure to the game in the schools’ environment.

The second challenge and probably the one which can be addressed more readily, is the absence of facilities to offer soccer at many of our township and rural schools. Many of the South African schools hardly have enough space to host the children that they cater for and do not have any ground in close proximity, which can be developed into soccer fields. Local clubs are often severely neglected, under-resourced and cannot provide a safe haven for young children to be coached and nurtured.

We need to “throw money at the problem” – sufficient investment would provide the essential infrastructure and coaching staff, which is key to the growth of the sport. Prestigious national schools’ soccer tournaments across the country can provide the much-needed exposure for soccer players, while high profile sponsorship will guarantee the status which is needed to ensure that these events are taken seriously. This will generate huge public interest, which in turn will inevitably attract more sponsors and more players. This cycle will lead to exponential growth, in that more sides will want to compete with the best. Once the numbers and the status are established, the secondary supporting services will allow for funds to be invested in fitness coaches, nutritionists, technical advisors and other expertise that can produce elite performances at all levels of the game (as seen in rugby and cricket).

In order to address this problem, extensive planning, funding and implementation is required to put us on the map and allow us to compete internationally on the soccer front. Government intervention would get the ball rolling. Rome was not built in a day and neither will we produce a Lionel Messi or a Wayne Rooney overnight, but the rewards will be reaped over the long term – both locally and internationally. We will indeed attract bigger interest in our domestic PSL League, whilst the next diamond in the rough could be our very own, locally produced, Cristiano Ronaldo.  

We have the passion, we have the people… all that we are looking for now is the money which will lead to action. The future holds boundless possibilities and who knows what heights we can achieve if we can mobilise the large numbers of soccer-loving schoolboys from all corners of our country to embrace the beautiful game and strive to put us on top where we belong.