‘’Battle of the Stars’’ PSL 9/11
Orlando Pirates got its second August 3rd when it was humbled with a chisa mpama and one additional finger, when it was successfully outclassed 6-0 by Mamelodi Sundowns. The venue was Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria which a day earlier was the site where former Springbok captain Joost Van Der Westhuizen was having his farewell service. The PSL which runs the most lucrative league on the African continent continues to experiencing empty seats at stadia. The PSL has grown rich as television money has increased coffers, and this has meant that soccer is a lucrative business.
Mamelodi Sundowns recently acquired a CAF Champions League star in 2016, to be welcomed to the first class strata of African football. Orlando Pirates with its fading star, has been a team in need of an overhaul, an institution that has a glorious past and a disastrous present reality. The meeting of the two teams was on the 11 February, which is the same day that Nelson Mandela was released from prison. In the recent past, the State of Nation Address (SONA) was articulated on the 11 February to link the SONA with the release of Nelson Mandela, the great South African icon. This year SONA was held on the 09 February and it was pure theatre, and a comedian’s material session on steroids. The events of Parliament were rather recreated by Orlando Pirates on the 11 February 2016, as the team shared the sentiments and conduct of the Economic Freedom Fighters.
The steady stream of goals led a small section of supporters to disturb the television signal by pulling the transmitting cords, and this situation was allowed to get out of hand as security did nothing to stabilise the situation. The pitch was invaded on the 83rd minute and the match was abandoned as safety quickly escaped. The trophy deficient Pirates fans could not stomach another 6 goals loss, as SuperSport United, another Tshwane PSL side had dished out earlier in the season. The game was resumed much later and the national consensus was that the events that occurred at Loftus were regrettable and this conduct remains a stain against the beautiful game.
The beautiful game in South Africa has been consistent in failing to create a conducive environment for the increase in the number of attendees, as safety and security is the number one concertn and the events of Saturday do little to promote more soccer attendance. Couples, families, females and the elderly continue their boycott of soccer matches because it’s a different ball game. The PSL knows that soccer attendance is skewed towards males, and the inability to attract new customers must be a major concern. The PSL and its teams have failed to transform soccer towards soccer-entertainment. The mood and environment is totally different when one attends rugby and cricket matches, which are able to become family outings.
The last time soccer had such an environment was during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, after the last whistle it was back to backward conduct that has typified soccer administration in South Africa. The cricket series against Sri Lanka has been typified by attendees that include South Africans and tourists. The only possible soccer event that experiences tourist consumption might be the the Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs derby.
The great stadiums that are the legacy of the 2010 FIFA World Cup are optical marvels of architectural. South Africans and tourists should be streaming to attend soccer matches at these stadia but avoidance is the reality. This means that gate taking remains low and over dependence on the PSL granted by the teams. I am of the option that we must never allow a crisis to go to waste. The tragic events that occurred at Loftus must be the ignition for a greater conversation about the entire soccer experience that remains a dream deferred. Soccer matches, are events where the experience must be planned from beginning to end, with the intention to create a WOW experience on and off the field.
A memorable experience is what the PSL and its various teams must strive for, as competition for the soccer fanatic wallet increases on all fronts. Attending a soccer match is similar to taking a taxi, it’s risky business. It’s a Black South Africans version of daily re-enactment of adventure sports, hence our appetite to do risky adventure activities such as shark cage diving, skydiving and bungee jumping remains dampened. We must never allow this crisis to go to waste, it must be our winter to encourage discourse about the soccer experience. The worst of times can allow us to plan for the future, so that the best of times can return.
Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity.