Beautiful game, hideous administrators

Andrew Donaldson on SAFA's deplorable record, and Banyana Banyana's achievement despite it


DANNY Jordaan and the South African Football Association do so love a good news story, and Banyana Banyana’s remarkable showing at the Women’s World Cup is one such story. 

True, the Netherlands may have ended South Africa’s cup dreams in their “Round of 16” knock-out encounter in Sydney on Sunday. But Banyana Bantana are the first senior national team, male or female, to advance beyond the pool stage at a World Cup. Safa are pleased; this bodes well for their bid to host the 2027 Women’s World Cup. You can almost hear the cash registers already, ringing loudly above the drone of vuvuzelas.

But back to the present. Banyana Banyana’s progress has been remarkable. They were defeated in all their pool games in the 2019 World Cup, against China, Spain and Germany. This was their first-ever participation in the tournament. Fast forward to this year’s event in Australia and New Zealand, where they went down 2-1 to Sweden, drew two-all against Argentina but, against all expectations, pulled off a stunning 3-2 victory against Italy to advance to the knock-out round. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

What makes this all the more extraordinary is that the team have no professional league at home; goalkeeper Kaylin Swart, for example, still has to go out and work while other countries' players are able to enjoy full-time sporting careers. 

“I work a full-time job,” Swart told Sunday World. “I work nine-to-five every day and I have to train at night from 7pm to 9pm. It’s tough being a footballer in South Africa, but we do what we can for the love of the game. Hopefully, one day we’ll be professionalised. Obviously, a lot of young girls can now look at us and see us as role models. If we were before, we are now, probably more of role models.”

Always this depressing group-think of role models. But, cynicism aside, Swart’s comments are noteworthy; before the Italian game, where she played a blinder, she had been blamed for the team’s poor earlier performances.

This was grossly unfair, as this blame should be levelled against Safa. They are to football what the ruling party is to public life: inept, venal and hideously bloated. At its helm, Danny Jordaan, a former ANC MP and a man accused of rape and of driving the association into penury. Bluntly speaking, the beautiful game has not fared well under his stewardship and, according to the DA’s Tsepo Mhlongo, “has gone from bad to worse”. 

This was certainly evident, in the run-up to the tournament, when the South African women boycotted a warm-up match against Botswana because individual payments weren’t included in their contracts. Many players complained that it felt like they’d been done a favour by being selected for the national squad. The fiasco was only resolved when the billionaire Patrice Motsepe, the president of the African Football Confederation, agreed to contribute $320 000 to be equally distributed among the players.

Meanwhile, the criminal complaints against Jordaan have been piling up. There are, notably, allegations concerning the sacking of the 2010 Fifa World Cup Legacy Trust fund to buy the run-down Fun Valley Pleasure Resort outside Johannesburg, ostensibly for conversion to a football development and training centre. According to affidavits, Jordaan “unilaterally” ensured an R87-million grant from the trust to buy a property which was apparently valued at no more than R35-million. Questions about missing millions remain unanswered.

And yet, like any ANC president, Jordaan continues to enjoy the full support of his colleagues. Last year, he was re-elected for a third term as Safa president. His leadership style, according to a Daily Maverick report, has been described as “that of a despotic, power-hungry man who acts without integrity and frequently beyond the remits of his authority and in violation of a litany of Safa regulations”. 

As the association’s CEO he was credited with securing the 2010 Fifa World Cup, but the awarding of the tournament to South Africa was mired in allegations of a $10-million bribe to secure the deal. Details of said bribe — later described by Jordaan as “not a bribe” — emerged in a 2015 indictment by then US attorney general Loretta Lynch. (A case of nominative determinism, perhaps?)

An unnamed “high ranking official”, identified only as “Co-Conspirator #15” but a prominent member of both the 2006 and 2010 Safa bid committees, had handed over a briefcase stuffed with cash in $10 000 stacks in a Paris hotel room. At the time, the nation’s newsrooms bombarded Lynch’s office for further details but to no avail. 

The government, meanwhile, insisted they were not involved in this matter. Then minister in the presidency Jeff Radebe, who was a member of the 2010 local organising committee, said that as far as they were concerned, the government’s hands were clean in this matter of “organised soccer”, as Lynch put it.

This being organised football (as the rest of the world knows it), the then sports minister Fikile Mbalula went into dribble overdrive, telling reporters: “We’re told that we’re the main actors of this movie, whereas the main actor is Fifa. We shouldn’t be the ones victimised deliberately and unavoidably in this process.” 

I was in Zurich in 2004 to report on the announcement of the 2010 winning bid, and it was quite apparent that many members of Safa’s bid delegation were in no doubt about the  outcome whatsoever. It was unsettlingly odd, I wrote, that celebrations at the upmarket Dolder Grand Hotel, where the South Africans were staying, began the day before the winner was announced.

I remember them tearing into the Johnnie Walker Black Label. Huge men with gold watches and chains, resplendent in Bafana Bafana shirts and expensive white trainers, all waving empty glasses at startled Swiss bar staff and shouting for refills.

One day, perhaps, our footballers will have cause to celebrate in such a manner. 

On second thoughts, though, maybe not. The hangovers the next day, when South Africa was announced as 2010 hosts, were obviously truly dreadful. 


London’s new anti-misogyny campaign has come in for stick. Introduced with fanfare by mayor Sadiq Khan last month, it encourages men to call out sexism among their friends by saying “maaate”. This, it is claimed, is a “simple and effective intervention that can stop problematic language and behaviour” and is apparently based on how birds communicate with each other.

The word was chosen by the Ogilvy advertising agency which found that elongating the vowel in “mate” gets attention in conversation. David Fanner, a behavioural scientist with the agency, claimed this was how birds sang to one another. “In nature,” he explained, “birds often vary note duration to signal different meanings or emotions. We looked into the academic literature and found animals do this. We do it every day. We stress syllables to get the right meaning across.”

Khan’s campaign advises inordinate emphasis on the “t” to signal serious intent. This creates “a sharp break” in the flow of speech. “The ’t’ sound indicates that there has been a shift in conversation and helps the speaker gently convey disapproval.”

Women have been unkind. Observer columnist Barbara Ellen argues that, however well-intentioned the idea of encouraging men and boys to intervene when they encounter sexist attitudes, Khan’s campaign “seems a tad basic and naive, not to mention richly lampoonable”. 

Feminist groups, Ellen writes, have slammed it as lightweight and patronising. It ignores “the real (big, ugly) problems facing women in London and elsewhere”. The money should rather have been spent on more policing, more street lighting, more convictions for rape and assault, and more support and resources for women fleeing domestic violence, et cetera.

The Saffer barmaid here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), preverbal at the best of times, has also weighed in on the matter. She too has elongated her vowels and her exasperated outbursts sound like “faaark” and “kaaark”. This, according to the regulars, is the pillow talk of the hadeda.