Mark Gleeson

Money talks in Africa

2010-11-08 07:16
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
Mark Gleeson

The ambition of playing in continental competition is a major driving force for achievement in football in the English league, widely regarded as the best there is and slavishly followed worldwide.

To ‘play in Europe’ is a target most teams set and it is either by gaining success in the cups or finishing in a high league position, that this is achieved.

To be able to compete in either the UEFA Champions League or the re-styled UEFA Europa League brings with it financial reward from extra crowds and television revenues, prestige and, for the fans, a great sense of satisfaction and adventure.

The British, in particular, love to be able to follow their teams onto the European continent on a midweek night to some interesting destination, proving their loyalty as supporters by undergoing long and liquid-filled journeys as almost as a right of passage.

In South Africa, our clubs have the opportunity too, to play in continental club competition against the best from Africa.

But that is as far as the similarities extend.

Kaizer Chiefs have confirmed they will again be skipping the chance to participate in the African Confederation Cup, the lesser of the two annual tournaments because frankly it is just not worth the bother.

I have much sympathy with their stance as a veteran of many trips to similar games over the decades.

There is little lustre to compete north of our borders, in atrocious conditions, staying in flea-ridden establishments and generally being treated as if prisoner of war rather than a guest in another’s persons’ home.

The football is usually played on threadbare pitches and the refereeing almost guaranteed to be bent.

Corruption among referees in African football is reaching epidemic proportions and unless you are willing to enter into subterfuge and pay your way, it is a competition that exhausts rather than exhilarates.

Then there is the cost of competing, the air travel, which in Africa is markedly more expensive than Europe because the choice not as varied, the distances longer and the monopolies in the skies of no benefit to the air traveler.

SuperSport United paid almost R500 000 for one of their Champions League trips to West Africa recently. It is a big drain on resources.

It is also always played over weekends, which cuts into domestic programmes. The lengthy trips tire the players and break the rhythm they have hopefully reached by that stage of the season.

You can fully understand why Chiefs have said ‘no thanks’

But then you have to also think about how these decisions are now taken with finances the top motivation, above any sporting consideration.

Chiefs essentially exist to compete, to try and win on a weekly basis. That is their basic mission.

Therefore, to stay out of the pan-African event is to miss the challenge of pitting your skills against those from people from other countries. It is a essence of sport, eroded these days by the greed for money.

South African clubs have to toughen themselves and try and make a go of it on the continent. It builds brand, character and is the ultimate competition they will ever have.

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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