Is South Africa ready to host the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations?
With only 12 days to the kick-off of the continental showpiece in Johannesburg, the South African Football Association (Safa) reinstated five officials who were put on “special leave” after the International Federation of Association Football’s (Fifa) allegations that South African officials were involved in match fixing at the 2010 World Cup.
The association said the officials were improperly removed.
But Sipho Sithole, communications officer of the Afcon local organising committee, on Sunday was quick to downplay the effect of the damning Fifa report.
“I can certainly tell you that whatever is happening with Safa is not affecting the tournament’s preparations and I wouldn’t see anything major happening to the team’s preparations,” he said.
The report rocked the Safa executive, resulting in the suspension of five senior members, including the association’s president Kirsten Nematandani and acting CEO Dennis Mumble.
It alleged all those implicated were working with a Singapore-based group, Football 4U, in a bid to fix Bafana friendly matches leading up the 2010 World Cup.
There will be success
But last week, following a meeting with Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, Safa reinstated all suspended members of its executive.
Mbalula said that while the decision to reinstate those implicated was taken by Safa, nothing would get in the way of a successful tournament.
“The minister has stressed that soccer is an important social transformation tool,” Mbalula’s spokesperson Paena Galane told the M&G.
“The government has invested a lot of resources into the Afcon and neither Safa or anyone else will be allowed to hurt brand South Africa [in this regard].”
Nematandani did not answer calls for comment from the M&G on Sunday.
But more worries threaten to dog the local organising committee as little hype has been created for the event, resulting in less than 85 000 match tickets bought by the public.
“We have done very well considering the late stage at which we knew we were hosting this tournament,” Sithole said.
Civil unrest broke out in 2012 in Libya, the original host of the tournament, and South Africa took up the reigns. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) officially endorsed this in September 2012.
“Although 83 314 tickets have been sold through direct public sales as of December 3, we have had a further 220 000 sales to football associations from participating countries, host cities and CAF beneficiaries.”
This was still well below the target of 500 000 ticket sales the local organising committee set itself.
The committee was due to launch a public awareness campaign in all host cities on Tuesday in an attempt to accelerate ticket sales.
Ticket prices range from R50 to R200, and can be bought at special kiosks in selected Spar stores across the country or via the local organising committee’s call centre.
Sithole pointed out that despite subdued ticket sales, the committee was well prepared from a logistical and planning standpoint.
“Even if the games were this weekend we are ready for them from that point of view – we are all systems go,” he added.
With the challenges facing South Africa off the field in mind, it would seem national team coach Gordon Igesund’s task to ensure a successful show by Bafana Bafana could not get any more difficult.
Although the effect boardroom-level troubles might have on the national team’s performance in the tournament is debatable, it would seem any potential harm is already done.
Igesund was tasked by Safa to guide the national side to the semi-finals of the tournament lest he be faced with dismissal at the end of the competition.
The team’s form has been patchy as of late, delivering three wins and three losses in six games under Igesund’s tenure, which began in September last year.
Former national team captain Neil Tovey told the M&G understanding the connection between team performance and a well run administration isn’t “rocket science.”
“In general, where the clubs and national football administrations are well run you will see this translate into good results on the pitch,” he added.
Tovey used reigning Afcon champions Zambia as an example, citing former player Kalusha Bwalya’s influence in the Copper Bullets’ meteoric rise to become champions in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon last year.
“It was clear that Kalusha had a calming influence on the team as he had made sure the football administration in Zambia was run without controversy,” Tovey said.
This viewpoint was echoed by University of Cape Town sports scientist Dr Ross Tucker.
“The coach of any team is tasked with preparing them strategically, tactically and mentally,” Tucker told the M&G.
“The moment you have them having to insulate their players from external factors like boardroom shenanigans, you are just adding to the coach’s responsibilities.”
Bafana Bafana begin their campaign against the Cape Verde Islands at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on January 19.