Na­tional team jer­sey

Have com­pe­ti­tions like the African Na­tions Cham­pi­onship de­val­ued the Bafana Bafana jer­sey?

Kick Off - - INSIDE - BY MARK GLEE­SON Twit­ter: @mark­gleeson­foot

It was never stated out loud for fear of rock­ing po­lit­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ties but there was a time when the Bafana Bafana brand was big­ger than Nel­son Man­dela. South Africa’s first demo­crat­i­cal­ly­elected pres­i­dent was com­ing to the end of his term in power when Bafana Bafana were at the height of theirs and it would have been a close call to see who was the most pop­u­lar. But that was al­most two decades ago and while the le­gend and legacy of Madiba burns brightly, the Bafana brand has about as much at­trac­tion as a sorry piece of charred tough steak with­out any pap or gravy. The lus­tre is gone. It was just weeks ago, on a chilly af­ter­noon, amid the dust of the North West Province, at the Moru­leng Sta­dium where just a few thou­sand both­ered to turn up to watch the lat­est ver­sion of the na­tional team go through its paces … against Botswana in the African Na­tions Cham­pi­onship (CHAN) qual­i­fiers.

It was a sad in­dict­ment of what

depths the Bafana name has fallen too, par­tic­i­pat­ing in a mean­ing­less match with a rag-tag squad with very few peo­ple in­ter­ested in the out­come. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in these types of tour­na­ments might be po­lit­i­cally pru­dent for SAFA but by se­lect­ing a rag-tag squad and then in­fer­ring on them the un­earned hon­our of be­ing called in­ter­na­tional foot­ballers, is what has dumped the Bafana brand in the mud and de­filed the con­cept of “wear­ing the na­tional jer­sey”. It is the administrators who are solely to blame and as they bat­tle to find proper cash spon­sor­ship for the na­tional team – the deals these days

THE CAP­TAIN’S ARM­BAND … IS NOT SOME­THING TO PASS AROUND LIKE A BOT­TLE OF WHISKEY AT A PARTY.

are value in kind – and they must re­flect on how they have let this sorry state of af­fairs hap­pen. Sim­ply, it comes from cheap­en­ing the con­cept of an in­ter­na­tional cap and what it is to rep­re­sent one’s coun­try at full in­ter­na­tional level. It is not a prob­lem that ma­jor foot­balling na­tions suf­fer from, sim­ply be­cause they do not play any matches out­side of the dates re­served for na­tional team matches on FIFA’s co-or­di­nated in­ter­na­tional cal­en­dar, when clubs are forced to re­lease their play­ers and a full com­pli­ment is avail­able to na­tional teams.

But SAFA agreed to par­tic­i­pate in

the COSAFA Cas­tle Cup, the CHAN and sev­eral other mean­ing­less tour­na­ments for po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial ex­pe­di­ency in the past with­out prop­erly re­al­is­ing the folly of their ways or the dam­age they would do to their brands. By fail­ing to pro­tect the sanc­tity of the Bafana jer­sey, they have done it mas­sive harm. A poor re­la­tion­ship with the Pre­mier Soc­cer League – and no ef­fort to im­prove it since Danny Jor­daan took over as SAFA boss – means na­tional team coaches have been forced to go cap in hand to clubs to beg for play­ers when they have Bafana obli­ga­tions out­side of the FIFA cal­en­dar. What is then se­lected is a hodge­podge of play­ers who are sur­plus to re­quire­ments at club level and are then “re­warded” with in­ter­na­tional caps. Frankly, a most bizarre state of af­fairs. So here’s a tip to as­pi­rant in­ter­na­tion­als: Train and play poorly at your club so that you don’t get into the match day squad and the coach doesn’t need you and then when the na­tional coach needs play­ers, you can go and play for Bafana! Of course this can­not be the case, nor can the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with teenagers in the na­tional squad. The Bafana team should al­ways be the best XI that can pos­si­bly be put out to the park, ir­re­spec­tive of age etc. It is not a fo­rum for de­vel­op­ment or ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. It is a sacro­sanct in­sti­tu­tion that is the pin­na­cle of achieve­ment in the sport and must be treated with ut­most re­spect. This ap­plies to the cap­tain’s arm­band too … it is not some­thing to pass around like a bot­tle of whiskey at a party. Restor­ing the Bafana brand should be of para­mount im­por­tance to SAFA, es­pe­cially in terms of spon­sor­ship and gate rev­enue po­ten­tial, never mind mak­ing the wear­ing of the jer­sey a mer­i­to­ri­ous dis­tinc­tion again. Hope­fully a place in the 2018 World Cup fi­nals will help this process. im­me­di­ate amends by halt­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in any so-called in­ter­na­tion­als out­side of the FIFA cal­en­dar. In­stead, when they send a team to the COSAFA Cas­tle Cup, it must clearly be a B team or the un­der23s or a SAFA Pres­i­dent’s XI or what­ever they choose to call it … as long as it is not Bafana Bafana. As for the CHAN tour­na­ment … with­draw … and do what Egypt do and don’t en­ter fu­ture edi­tions. That is the only way to re­gain cred­i­bil­ity in the eyes of a pub­lic, who have not been hood­winked in the least by the faux Bafana teams that have been dished up of late.

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