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PSL risks losing fans forever with senseless ban

Without supporters, football is doomed

Nkareng Matshe Sports editor
Players lineup for prematch protocols in front of empty stands at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban last weekend. The venue could have done with a crowd, says the writer.
Players lineup for prematch protocols in front of empty stands at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban last weekend. The venue could have done with a crowd, says the writer.
Image: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images

It had been nearly two years without being close to a football stadium, thanks to Covid-19 and the PSL’s continued ban on the media at their events, so last weekend felt so surreal.

The Moses Mabhida Stadium, the venue for the DStv Compact Cup semifinals staged last Saturday, looked deserted, bereft of the usual buzz and excitement which had previously been seen when the iconic Durban venue hosted cup finals or big matches.

Proof of vaccination and a match ticket were the main prerequisites for entering the stadium, and indeed at all three checkpoints, these were demanded.

But it’s only after we took our seats and watched the first semifinal between Dinaledi and Coastal United that I began to get a picture of how bizarre it has been for those who have had to adapt to the new normal.

You could hear technical team members shouting instructions from afar, and those who would typically get away with foul language because it would be drowned out by the sound of the vuvuzela are obviously disadvantaged.

Substitutes took their place in the terraces just above the presidential suite, from where we were watching, and you could eavesdrop onto some of their conversations.

It looked genuinely a cosy, close-knit atmosphere for those who surely are now used to this set-up, which has been running since August 2020, with many fans – and journalists – having last set a foot at a PSL event in March that year when Covid brought everything to a standstill.

But my impression was that football without fans is decidedly dull. Very boring. Sure, your bench and teammates would get up to offer encouragement and applaud a piece of skill, but it’s not the same. Something was missing.

While not a lot was at stake in the two matches, with teams made up of players from various PSL regions and not used to each other, you got a sense that these players could have done with a backing from a crowd.

Eventually, we were told there had been around 2,000 allowed in as per government regulations, but in a stadium of that size, that seemed like a drop in the ocean.

Why the PSL has found comfort in this kind of tedious arrangement is a mystery to me. They consistently blame the government’s stipulation which limits attendance to 2,000, but the league has not done anything to show they want to end this.

Instead, they have issued platitudes and clouded statements when asked pointed questions on the matter.

Fortunately, the league’s media department has been on the ball on this DStv Compact Cup, timeously issuing accrediting guidelines and ensuring Covid-19 protocols are being followed by media houses. That’s sufficient evidence there’s no plausible reason for the continued ban on reporters.

But it is the fans who should now be prioritised, lest the PSL risks losing them forever. Being at the stadium for over six hours last week deprived me of access to a TV remote, which I could have easily flipped to other channels.

This has become the life of SA fans, restricted to watch on TV for a full two years, but that doesn’t guarantee they are watching PSL football. No doubt with so much live sport, other events could win them over.

Therein lies the danger here for the PSL. One thing I witnessed last weekend was: without fans, football is doomed.

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