It’s time for the PSL to stop this non­sense

CityPress - - Sport - CAIPHUS KGOSANA

When Swedish ty­coon Dan Olof­s­son opened Thanda Sa­fari Pri­vate Game Re­serve in north­ern KwaZulu-Natal more than 10 years ago, he in­vited Zulu King Good­will Zwelithini to the star-stud­ded af­fair.

As part of giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity, Olof­s­son started the Thanda Star Academy to help de­velop young black soc­cer play­ers in the area and give them es­sen­tial life skills.

The Swedish ty­coon went big, bring­ing in his coun­try­man and for­mer Eng­land man­ager SvenGöran Eriks­son to help him es­tab­lish a soc­cer team, Thanda Royal Zulu.

A Pre­mier Soc­cer League (PSL) sta­tus was bought from the now-de­funct Benoni United, and the team was moved to Richards Bay.

But its for­tunes waned af­ter that and, in the 2008/09, sea­son the side was rel­e­gated to the lower divi­sion.

Since then, it has been fight­ing its way back to the top flight. It fi­nally earned that de­served pro­mo­tion last sea­son, bring­ing hope and joy to a re­gion that can truly ben­e­fit from having a team in the PSL.

But that joy was short-lived. In­stead of cel­e­brat­ing this achieve­ment, club chair­per­son Pierre Del­vaux went around an­nounc­ing his in­ten­tion to sell the team’s PSL sta­tus, say­ing it was too ex­pen­sive to run.

Now Dur­ban-based out­fit AmaZulu have bought this sta­tus, with fig­ures as high as R55 mil­lion be­ing bandied about. There is noth­ing to cel­e­brate here. The city of uMh­lathuze, where the club is based, is dis­mayed and so should the rest of the foot­bal­llov­ing fra­ter­nity be. The city is­sued a state­ment in May con­demn­ing the move, urg­ing the PSL’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee not to en­dorse it.

“The city of uMh­lathuze has for years in­vested mil­lions of rands into the club as main spon­sors with the in­ten­tion of see­ing the club de­vel­op­ing to the top league. City peo­ple and soc­cer lovers in­vested their hearts when the club was strug­gling and sup­ported it with all they had un­til the glory days,” it said.

“Tax­pay­ers’ money was also in­vested in im­prov­ing the sta­dium to ac­com­mo­date the club’s success and, just re­cently, R14 mil­lion worth of Fi­faac­cred­ited sta­dium lights were in­stalled and more im­prove­ments in the fa­cil­ity are un­der way, worth mil­lions of rands, which will go down the drain if the al­le­ga­tions are proven to be fac­tual.”

This is what one of the team’s fans had to say on hear­ing the news that its sta­tus could be sold to AmaZulu: “I un­der­stand it’s dif­fi­cult to keep the club afloat, but he [Del­vaux] must think about the fans who have al­ways sup­ported the club through thick and thin.

“I’ve been to their home­ground, Umh­lathuze Sports Com­plex, a cou­ple of times and the fans have al­ways filled it to the rafters.

“I hope this sale too doesn’t suc­ceed so that AmaZulu can learn to win on the pitch, not in the board­room. If the PSL ap­proves this sale, then a rel­e­ga­tion dog­fight be­comes point­less. Let it be about foot­ball, not money.

“Foot­ball is the beau­ti­ful game and that’s what we want to en­joy.”

Foot­ball has its roots in work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties. The game of bil­lions has taken kids from the rough edges of the world and turned them into global su­per­stars. There are cities that are built around foot­ball. Imag­ine Liver­pool with­out An­field, Bil­bao with­out the San Mamés or Or­lando with­out its ma­jes­tic the­atre.

A city such as Richards Bay has a lot to gain from a pro­fes­sional team rep­re­sented in the Pre­mier­ship. It is not just en­ter­tain­ment value for the fans; a pro­fes­sional soc­cer team brings with it mas­sive eco­nomic spin-offs.

Given the high level of emo­tion the peo­ple of Richards Bay in­vest in foot­ball, you are guar­an­teed that home games will be packed.

When­ever such home games are tele­vised, the ben­e­fits in­crease ex­po­nen­tially. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity was right to in­vest this money into the team and a sale of the sta­tus would be a ter­ri­ble way to re­pay that faith.

The com­plaint by Del­vaux that run­ning a foot­ball club is too ex­pen­sive is bizarre at this stage. If they could, for al­most a decade, af­ford to pump money into a team stuck in the wilder­ness of the Na­tional First Divi­sion, how can they want to give up now that they have reached the promised land?

PSL teams re­ceive up to R1.5 mil­lion a month to cater for op­er­a­tional ex­penses; it would not be that dif­fi­cult to find a lo­cal spon­sor will­ing to cover the short­fall. Un­less, of course, the R55 mil­lion sale price, if true, is more ap­peal­ing to some of the club di­rec­tors.

Think about the play­ers who have been with the team in the first divi­sion all these years, putting in the work with the hope of car­ry­ing it to the PSL. How many of them can AmaZulu ac­com­mo­date? It is truly un­fair on them, on the fans and on the city. Usuthu must learn to fight their way up rather than buy­ing other peo­ple’s hard work. The PSL must put an end to this bad prac­tice. TALK TO US

Should the PSL end the sell­ing of sta­tus?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word THANDA and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

PHOTO: GER­HARD DURAAN / BACKPAGEPIX

NOTH­ING TO CEL­E­BRATE Thanda Royal Zulu play­ers will still play in the Na­tional First Divi­sion af­ter their Pre­mier­ship sta­tus was sold

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