By Nikolaos Kirkinis / Sports / 5th December 2016
Many South Africans have an incredible ability to pick and choose which national teams they support, and rightly so. South Africans love sport and therefore love winning, so they like to pick a winning team. It is easy to support South African cricket, golf, swimming, and until last year, rugby… Why is it so difficult to stand by Bafana? And why do we compete at the top level of all sports except for soccer?
It simply doesn’t make sense. This country is unbelievably talented at all sporting codes. We have Olympic medals in swimming and athletics, our golfers have been up there with the world’s best since the days of crackling radio’s. Our cricket team, although trophyless when it comes to World Cup’s, can stand toe to toe with any giant. Our rugby squad is (momentarily “was”) always one of the top three in the world. We have one semi-competitive tennis player. We have a decent wheelchair basketball team and our boxers’ even pack a mean punch.
So why do we struggle when it comes to the world’s most popular sport? We can’t say that we are “just bad” at football, that answer is too simple. Plus, in 1996 our football team was ranked 19th in the world and 1st in Africa. In 1976 our first ever multi-racial football team drilled Argentina 5-0, so it doesn’t make sense to say we are bad at football, rather, we have gotten bad.
How did we get bad though? There are a number of reasons given. People say that there are too many foreigners in our local league, our players are lazy, or that they are over-paid. And all those things may be contributing factors, but I would like to argue that the reason lies in the high-school.
We have plenty academies in South Africa, but the high school is the real bastion of change. To be more specific, the private high school and elite public schools and all schools in between. For some unknown reason, many schools that are considered sporting schools do not offer soccer as a serious sport.
You usually have a choice of playing either rugby or hockey in the winter and then swimming or tennis in the summer, with possibly a month of soccer in September, if your school is feeling generous.
To put it simply, nicer schools have nicer resources, better fields, more qualified coaches, and therefore produce better athletes. Let’s just look at one school that takes sport seriously, Grey College in Bloemfontein, here are some of their alumni – Heinrich Brussow, Naka Drotske, all the Du Plessis’ (Bismark, Jannie, and Morne), Johan Goosen (all rugby), Hansie Cronje, Kepler Wessels (cricket), Ryk Neethling (Olympic gold swimmer), and Wayde Van Niekerk (Olympic gold athlete). Imagine if just this school produced soccer players too?
It also makes more sense to offer soccer as the alternative to rugby. With all due respect to hockey, we produce many great hockey players but very few follow it through after school, because there is not enough money in it for you to make your living.
Soccer is different, you can make a career off of it in South Africa. And you can be very wealthy too. You will earn more sitting on the bench for Kaizer Chiefs for a couple of months than you will playing a whole season of first team Curry Cup.
In short, it is not South Africa that produces great sportsman but rather South African schools. If soccer were offered as a winter sport, I would be willing to bet my bottom Rand that South Africa would be one of the top ten countries in the world in the FIFA rankings. Why the schools remain reluctant to do so, only they can answer. But until this problem is fixed, we can sit back and get used to under achieving as a nation in the world’s biggest sport.