Teams need to re­deem them­selves

Pretoria News Weekend - - OPINION -

IN A sports-mad coun­try like ours, to­day is sup­posed to be a red let­ter day. We are host­ing three in­ter­na­tional matches: in rugby against New Zealand in Cape Town; in soc­cer against Burk­ina Faso in Joburg and in cricket against Bangladesh in Bloem­fontein.

In Cape Town, if there is a full house, it will be for no other rea­son than that the All Blacks prob­a­bly have their big­gest sin­gle fan base out­side of New Zealand there. The build-up to this, once the great­est ri­valry in rugby, has been un­der­stand­ably muted, given the All Blacks’ ruth­less 57-0 de­mo­li­tion of the Boks a fort­night ago in the re­cip­ro­cal fix­ture.

In Joburg, the de­mand for tick­ets has been un­equiv­o­cal – no­body’s in­ter­ested. Sched­uled for the ma­jes­tic 90 000-seater FNB sta­dium, which iron­i­cally set a seat­ing record in 2010 of 94 713 for the Boks- All Black clash, fewer than 1 000 had been sold by mid­week.

We will see all too graph­i­cally on TV to­day when the whis­tle blows for the kick-off, whether or­gan­is­ers have been suc­cess­ful in the myr­iad ini­tia­tives they have em­ployed to drum up sup­port.

The dan­ger, though, is not of bruised na­tional pride, but the col­lapse of Bafana Bafana and the Spring­boks as vi­able en­ti­ties.

Fans ex­pect their teams to win; spon­sors de­mand they win – for a re­turn on their in­vest­ment. Teams do ex­pe­ri­ence ebbs and flows in their for­tunes, as does ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one else, but the stakes aren’t as high for us mortals as they are for the su­per­stars who com­mand our TV screens. When fans start turn­ing away in their droves, the mag­i­cal link be­tween them and their team – and the tens of thou­sands of rand they spend sup­port­ing them and the mil­lions of rand they rep­re­sent to po­ten­tial spon­sors and ad­ver­tis­ers go with them.

In the im­mor­tal words of Liver­pool coach Bill Shankly: “Some peo­ple be­lieve foot­ball is a mat­ter of life and death. I’m very dis­ap­pointed with that at­ti­tude. I can as­sure you it is much, much more im­por­tant than that.”

Safa and Saru’s ad­min­is­tra­tors have their work cut out for them.

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