Soccer's power plays condemn the sport to grubby mediocrity
PSL and Safa must find a way to resolve conflicts inherent in two centres of power
IN the highly charged days leading up to the ANC's 2007 conference in Polokwane, the buzz phrase in ANC circles was "two centres of power".
Those who wanted to prevent then president Thabo Mbeki from getting a third term as ANC leader argued that Mbeki - who was constitutionally precluded from a third term as the republic's president - would compete for power with his successor at the Union Buildings. This, they believed, was a recipe for conflict and paralysis that would cripple decision-making in the country.
The debate extended down to the provinces, with the view that the chairmen of ANC provincial structures should also serve as premiers in order to avoid the two centres of power. Although the issue was dealt with at the Polokwane conference, it has not been fully resolved and the debate still rages in the ANC.
This is a debate that South Africa's soccer authorities should be encouraged to engage in as they grapple with their own two centres of power. The crises plaguing South African football, which have culminated in our failure to qualify for several international competitions, has much to do with the two centres of power tussle.
On the one side you have the South African Football Association, local soccer's governing body. On the other side you have the Premier Soccer League, which runs the professional aspect of the game. While Safa is the mother body and should theoretically be the real powerhouse, the real power lies in the hands of the PSL.
Safa's power stems from the fact that it sets the rules, runs the national teams and has a direct line to Fifa and the Confederation of African Football.
The national federation's reach extends to every soccer-playing dorpie and village and rivals only the ANC in terms of geographical coverage.
The PSL's power, on the other hand, is derived from the fact that its members are at the apex of the local game. Its control of the Absa Premiership, the MTN 8, the Telkom Cup, the Nedbank Cup and its multibillion-rand broadcast deal with SuperSport means it is rolling in money. It can, and often does, tell the mother body to jump into a filthy lake.
The arrangement didn't cause too many problems while the people controlling both structures were in the same clique. Back then the so-called mother body was a puppet of the PSL and gyrated to its every tune. The crises that hit the national game in the late '90s and the decline of our national teams were due more to ineptitude, greed and a love of mediocrity than to political power plays.
But since Safa's elective conference in September 2009, dubbed soccer's own Polokwane, the game has been riven by debilitating rivalry. That conference saw the overthrow of soccer strongman Irvin Khoza's grouping and its replacement by an outfit loyal to Danny Jordaan. After the defeat of his clique, Khoza simply retreated to his power base, the PSL, which he has used to show Safa who the boss really is.
The period since then has been akin to a low-intensity war, with each side using its muscle to outmanoeuvre the other instead of working for the good of the game.
This power play has been hugely damaging for our national sides, who rely on PSL teams for players. Whereas in the past the club vs country tug-of-war applied to European league sides being reluctant to release players to the national squads, today it is the local outfits who snub Bafana Bafana and the age teams.
Who is the loser in all this? The national game and the South African people.
In the past two weeks we have seen the absolutely farcical situation in which a third-string Bafana Bafana lined up against continental rivals. Why? Because PSL teams told Safa and national coach Pitso Mosimane to go jump into a murky lake as their players needed some rest ... for the duration of the African Cup of Nations. Where have you ever heard of players coming out of the festive break and then going into a month-long holiday?
A way has to be found out of this impasse and it has to be structural. It has to start by removing the two centres of power conflict. As a nation we cannot rely on the hope that there will be harmony between the two bodies or pray that the controlling cliques at Safa and the PSL will be the same people. We need a system that will force them to work together.
This current crisis would be a good time for the soccer authorities to look at models of soccer governance which will deal with the two centres of power conundrum.
They need to borrow and steal from elsewhere and come up with a structure that, while allowing the professional league operational autonomy, places REAL supreme control at the hands of the national association.
Our football and the psychological health of the nation cannot be held ransom to power plays, petty politics and the ambitions of individuals.