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Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Des Van Rooyen. Picture Credit: Gallo Images
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sa soccer's rainbow fading

By Mogomotsi Selebi selebim@sowetan.co.za | Jan 25, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

SOUTH Africa has been described in certain parts of the world as a miracle nation.

That we managed to overcome years of injustice is a testament to our resilience. Even during those dark nights there was a ray of hope.

That hope was made ever more real by a number of white and Indian players in the game, despite the apartheid government's absurd efforts to ban players of different races from interacting with each other through sport.

Players like Phil "Ndoda" Venter and Sulie "Bump Jive" Bhamjee, Mark Tovey, Deshi Baktawer, Goona Padayachee and Gorah Ibrahim all come to mind as players who managed to cross the racial barrier and play for some of the biggest clubs in the country, such as Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and Moroka Swallows.

But recently there has been a worrying decline in white and Indian players in South African football, especially at "big clubs".

Many explanations have been given. Some of the reasons given are that children are more concerned about video games and the latest Jay-Z CDs than playing football.

Others have argued that "white players do not feel comfortable playing soccer", hence their commitment to cricket and rugby, which does not make sense because if they could feel "comfortable" playing soccer when the country was in flames, it should not be a problem now.

Former Kaizer Chiefs defender Mark Tovey, AmaZulu coach Neil Tovey's older brother, said the problem was deep-rooted.

"The problem is that most white players are scared of going to play in the townships. Because most of them are still young and do not have driver's licences, their parents do not want to take them to the townships. So they settle for cricket and rugby. The other problem is that there are not enough quality academies to develop talented players," Tovey said.

Tovey admitted that he was "sceptical" when he first went to play in the townships, but overcame it as time went on.

"We had some fantastic players like Ace (Ntsoelengoe) and Teenage (Dladla) who made my job very easy and it's a crying shame to see where Chiefs is at the moment. Their players seem only interested in getting their wages and buying BMWs and it's sad," he said.

Former Dynamos defender Ibrahim painted a different picture.

"A lot of Indian children put more emphasis on their academics and are determined to excel academically and are also very career-oriented. The other problem is that these boys play football at primary school but when they get to high school they either have to play rugby or cricket since there is no football," Ibrahim said.

He said the reason he was able to make it as a professional footballer was that there was nothing else to do.

"I managed to make it because football was all I did. I went to school and after that played football. It was our focal point as we had none of the computer games that these kids have today. I also think many Indians don't feel part of the local football scene, that's why you see most of them wearing your Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United jerseys, and this has to change."

Maritzburg United chief executive Afzal Khan is equally disturbed by the situation.

"The problem here lies with the parents who discourage their children from playing soccer. We grew up playing football at Chatsworth, where we had more than 800000 Indians, but it pains me a lot to see that youngsters are no longer playing football in the suburbs. What worries me the most is the absence of Indian players in the elite league," Khan said.

"Durban has a high number of Indians and we have three teams in the elite league, but not even a single Indian playing for these clubs. It's a problem we have been trying in vain to solve for a long time. We have been engaging parents but they seem uninterested in letting their children play the sport. They want their children to focus on studying. But they must know that education and sport are intertwined."

AmaZulu publicist Philani "Zane" Mabaso said it was a worrying factor for the teams, especially in Durban, not to have Indian players on their books.

Mabaso attributed this to the death of Indian leagues, adding that Indians have also lost interest in football.

"We need to work closely with all the stakeholders to woo Indians back to football. We should also encourage football to be played regularly at schools in the Indian suburbs. We had one of the talented strikers in the country in Dillan Pilay some years ago and we would love to have another gifted Indian player like him in the club. We are happy that Indians, coloured and white fans are starting to attend our matches when we play at Moses Mabhida Stadium."


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