Tumo Mokone

A cold welcome for Confed Cup

2009-06-12 14:40
Sport24 columnist Tumo Mokone (File)
Tumo Mokone

Some of the world's biggest soccer stars have arrived and the stage is set – in four different cities – for the eighth edition of the FIFA Confederations Cup. There is visible excitement among local officials, sponsors and the media as they all look forward to a successful and entertaining tournament.

Unfortunately the mood on the ground is not the same, at least in the two areas where I spent my days doing business. I work from two offices – one in Tembisa, near OR Tambo International Airport, and the other in Marshalltown, in Johannesburg’s city centre. When talking to colleagues in the office and people on the street, one simply does not get the feeling that there is a huge international tournament about to kick off on Sunday.

With so much media coverage, I battle to understand the cold response from the public. Simple questions like "who is going to win the Confed Cup", or "will Bafana Bafana beat Iraq on Sunday" are met with blank stares, or counter-questions like: “why are Iraq in South Africa?” The most daft of all responses were: “will England bring their full squad?” or, “why are Nigeria not here to represent Africa?”

The questions above are indicative of the flaws in the manner the crucial information about the Confederations Cup had been communicated. Of course both Nigeria and England are not part of this tournament because they did not qualify.

Even last Saturday, when South Africa played Poland in their final warm-up match, the famous Orlando Stadium was half full. Many people did not even know that Poland were in the country, and among those who knew, some thought the match was the start of the Confederations Cup itself. This brought me back to what FIFA general-secretary, Jerome Valcke, had been moaning about since the beginning of the year: “Where is the publicity?” he relentlessly demanded.

There could be other factors contributing to the general apathy towards this tournament, whose importance is that it doubles as a dress-rehearsal for the World Cup in a year's time. The country is in the middle of winter while football is largely a summer activity in South Africa and the new Premier League season does not start until August.

Secondly, the Confed Cup begins just as the effects of the global economic recession are beginning chomp at the pockets of the general public. Even SA's die-hard soccer tradition of buying tickets closer to the actual event may not be entirely satisfied anymore. Some games face the danger of being played in stadiums that cannot be filled.

While the corporate world must be commended for buying tickets in bulk, this is not an ideal situation because the South African public should come out in support of such an international event.

Thirdly, the lack of interest can also be attributed to the national team itself. Bafana have lost support from the general soccer public. Last week Bafana received a vote of 'no confidence' at the spiritual home of SA soccer, Orlando, when the magnificent stadium in Soweto could not be filled for their friendly against Poland.

Earlier in the week Bafana did not endear themselves to their supporters after they demanded R34 million in bonuses for winning the Confederations Cup. Their supporters are now saying if Bafana do not win, then it will be because they were not interested as they did not get the money they wanted. The SA Football Association stuck to their offer of R14 million. It remains to be seen how they will react against Iraq on Sunday!

Coach Joel Santana is also going a long way to ensuring Bafana look as dull as him. Last week he clogged the midfield with three defensive midfielders against the Polish team who were not here to fight for victory. Why defend so much against a team who came here for sight-seeing? Santana explained his rigid approach was due to the fact that his most creative player, Teko Modise, was rested. So, is he saying if Modise is absent SA have no ability to play positive football?

Santana better win at least one match during the Confederations Cup, or pack and leave. Football is entertainment, not the laborious affair presently on offer by Bafana Bafana. The first match, against Iraq, after the opening ceremony at Ellis Park, will provide a clearer picture of where SA stands in international football.

Change is imminent as well as urgent. The Confederations Cup is here and we are supposed to be excited and support our team. I urge SAFA to act as they did in 1997 when they axed Clive Barker at the end of the Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia. At the time Barker was still doing a good job as Bafana coach, but was sacked nevertheless. Please can history repeat itself if Bafana fail to win at least one game...


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