Com­pletely use­less

Why the sports min­is­ter and most sports fans have it com­pletely wrong.

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE -

“S ome peo­ple be­lieve foot­ball is a mat­ter of life and death, I am very dis­ap­pointed with that at­ti­tude. I can as­sure you it is much, much more im­por­tant than that.” For­mer Liver­pool man­ager Bill Shankly ut­tered th­ese words nearly 30-years ago, yet his sen­ti­ments have lost none of their rel­e­vance. In the same week that a five-year-old learner lost his life af­ter fall­ing into a pit la­trine at his school, the big news em­a­nat­ing out of the Gov­ern­ment min­istry was a re­ac­tion to the dis­mal per­for­mance of the na­tional soc­cer team.

South Africa lost 3-1 to Nige­ria to drop out of the African Na­tions Cham­pi­onship, and this spurred a mad rant by our Sports Min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula. “We saw a bunch of losers – un­bear­able, use­less in­di­vid­u­als. We must never wake up to this. We in­deed have a cri­sis of mon­u­men­tal pro­por­tions, this tour­na­ment has proved. That medi­ocrity we saw yes­ter­day is dis­grace­ful.” He even sin­gled out the young goal­keeper, who was close to tears: “I l ove Moe­neeb Josephs, but I don’t know what was go­ing on with him... I’ m sure his mother was there, how was he go­ing to ex­plain to her. It was a to­tal disgrace that per­for­mance.”

The irony, of course, is that as the Sports Min­is­ter, Mbalula should shoul­der much of the blame for the re­sult. Even though he is not ex­plic­itly call­ing the shots at SAFA (South African Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion), he has di­rect over­sight of the as­so­ci­a­tion and what is be­ing done to ad­vance the most pop­u­lar sport in South Africa.

Imag­ine the CEO of a large multi­na­tional call­ing a press con­fer­ence to an­nounce the dis­mal per­for­mance of one of the com­pany’s di­vi­sions: “Those guys in op­er­a­tions – what a bunch of losers. They are un­bear­able, use­less in­di­vid­u­als. And the op­er­a­tional di­rec­tor, Greg Jones, I don’t know what is go­ing on with him. Greg, you know I love you, but your per­for­mance is a to­tal disgrace.” This would never hap­pen in real life be­cause ul­ti­mately the CEO would be seal­ing his own fate. Es­pe­cially when it came to light later that the CEO had been throw­ing wild par­ties (read R100m on awards din­ners) in­stead of giv­ing the strug­gling di­vi­sion the re­sources that i t so des­per­ately needed. It seems the same rules don’t ap­ply when it comes to our in­com­pe­tent politi­cians.

What makes Mbalula’s scathing com­ments even more re­mark­able is the fact that barely two months ago Bafana Bafana de­feated Spain, the cur­rent World and Euro­pean Cham­pi­ons, in an in­ter­na­tional friendly. Af­ter the match, praise gushed from all cor­ners of the coun­try. Newly ap­pointed SAFA Pres­i­dent Danny Jor­daan said: “Con­grat­u­la­tions to all of you, you all made us proud... Let us con­tinue with this pro­gres­sion and it is only play­ing against the best that we can know how far we have pro­gressed.” Even Pres­i­dent Zuma chimed in: “Thank you very much for this per­for­mance, well done. It was ab­so­lutely won­der­ful watch­ing you, the coun­try is very happy. We are all proud of you.” Zuma led a huge del­e­ga­tion of dig­ni­taries – in­clud­ing Fik­ile Mbalula – to the Bafana Bafana dress­ing room to per­son­ally thank and shake the hands of each and ev­ery mem­ber of the team.

So what hap­pened over the past two months to jus­tify such a dras­tic turn­around in at­ti­tude? The an­swer is very lit­tle. The prob­lem is not in the per­ceived on-and-off per­for­mance of the team but rather in our own minds. The prob­lem is that we don’t prop­erly un­der­stand the role of ran­dom­ness in sport­ing events. In fact, we don’t prop­erly un­der­stand the role of ran­dom­ness in gen­eral.

Sports min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula

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