National team jersey
Have competitions like the African Nations Championship devalued the Bafana Bafana jersey?
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.