Africa News blog

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Africa? No thanks.

April 24, 2009

The pivotal marketing position when South Africa were still bidding for the 2010 World Cup was the assertion it would be a tournament for all of the continent. ‘Africa’s bid’ was the pay-off line used throughout the successful campaign.

Using famous footballing personalities from around the continent, South Africa garnered widespread support with its all-inclusive approach against their Arab rivals in the race to win the right to host the event.

But for their crowing about pan-African idealism, which the South African World Cup organisers still like to proffer from time to time, there is a growing ambivalence in the country about football to the north of its border.

It is as if South Africa looks more to Europe for inspiration and sporting solidarity and, if it had a choice, would bypass competition in Africa all together.

South Africa is ironically a founder member of the Confederation of African Football but increasingly uninterested in the organisations’competitions, notably at club level.

The country is one of 12 allowed the dispensation of having two teams instead of one in each of the annual African Champions League and African Confederation Cup.

Rarely, though, do South African clubs fill the generous quota, seeing entry into the pan African events as an unnecessary drain on time and resources.

In South Africa, the attitude is reflected by the way the local football community speaks of “playing in Africa” when the referring to the two competitions, as if the country is disconnected from the African land mass. In the same way, the British talk about “playing in Europe” but at least they have the English Channel as a geographical, rather than mental, barrier.

This year South African clubs have been particularly poor in the two competitions and by next weekend should all be embarrassingly eliminated after just three rounds of competition. The reason is they frankly couldn’t care less.

South African champions SuperSport United took a blasé attitude to the Champions League and got knocked out by Kampala City Council of Uganda. Such is the ambivalence with which the club regarded the biggest club competition on the continent, that Ugandan expatriates outnumbered SuperSport supporters by at least 10 to one when KCC played in Johannesburg.

There were so many glaring misses by SuperSport, against obviously inferior opposition, it seemed that were willing themselves to be knocked out so as to avoid onerous travel around the continent at the same time as they are seeking to retain their domestic league championship.

Ajax Cape Town went out as well to opposition from cash-strapped Zimbabwe, having approached the competition as a hindrance to their domestic agenda.

The big spending Mamelodi Sundowns are likely to be eliminated next weekend when they travel to Kinshasa for a match against AS V Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were held 2-2 at home in the first leg.

While proclaiming African fraternity, almost all the South African soccer community is dismissive of the merits of CAF competition. They bemoan the cost, the low level of hospitality, bad referees and poor pitches.

But isn’t the purpose of playing to overcome such odds and win competitions and international glory, as opposed to balancing the books at the end of the season? Winning a competition as punishing as the African Champions League is prestige far beyond any domestic dominance and it is bewildering that coaches and players from the South African Premier Soccer League do not see it that way.

And what of the supposed African camaraderie? Or was that just a marketing bluff to help win the right to host the 2010 World Cup?

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