So with the terrible performance displayed by the Proteas at the ICC Cricket World Cup over the years, and Bafana Bafana’s struggle to provide results since their famous 1996 Afcon victory, South African Sport now looks to the Springboks to bring them hope. Now regardless of the fact that smaller sport practices such as Athletics and Swimming are doing well in the country, we always have to ask why. Why do the Proteas have phenomenal stats, excellent cricket seasons and exciting young players, why do they have all these things yet always choke at WC’s? Why is it that Bafana Bafana has to always rely on other team results to have a chance of progressing to the next round of a competition? Why does every supporter claim “the Springboks will never be as good as the All Blacks?” Is it the players? Governance? Or Development structures?
In my opinion, it isn’t the players. We have some phenomenal athletes across the board, be it rugby cricket or footballers. So is it the development of players? Well, it is true that the South African Development structures ought to be grown, improved and innovated, but the fact that we already have world class athletes, means that the development structures are doing their job! So we cannot blame development, although we can agree that development has to be continuously improved. That only leaves governance. Defined as “the action of governing” which means we have to turn to those institutions governing the teams and the institutions which aren’t directly involved with teams but have a major influence on them.
Let’s take a look at some governing bodies, Cricket South Africa is currently undergoing some changes, post world cup. CSA has decided to make changes to the domestic game by adding more teams, which in turn has nothing to do with curating better performance results but more to do with cost cutting for the association, as James Richardson writes “Ironically more teams does not mean more professional players, in fact, the number of players who would be able to play full-time professional cricket is expected to drop under the new system.” Going off of this, it essentially means that the national team selection pool is likely to decrease in the future. Surely that doesn’t bode well for future competitions. This is but one example as to some of the missteps taken by a governing body.
The South African Football Association (SAFA), has been under the gun for a long time, to the point that the cries and complaints have died down, with South Africans seemingly accepting their practices. SAFA’s biggest flaw has been corruption allegations, particularly around the FIFA WC and the subsequent bid. Now this runs deep and it goes all the way to the top across the political spectrum, but if there are resources which are misused, good governance is in fact, an unattainable feat.
Looking at surrounding institutions, more specifically the media, the amount of pressure placed on the players of any big three (3) teams is ridiculous. It’s sort of like when England had their golden generation of footballers, i.e. Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard etc. They never did well! Ever! Maybe Euro 2004 but that’s about it. They had the correct structures, governance but the way the media and supporters placed all this unnecessary pressure on them was most likely the reason they got “performance anxiety”. It is the same thing South Africans and the South African Media does to its big 3 athletes. It is more prevalent in cricket and rugby. Kagiso Rabada has been smashing bowling records in cricket since coming onto the scene, he always stepped up. Come WC time, media pressure and faulty governance combined equals an ok performance, this is just one example of such. When it comes to rugby, the media and fans will always utter the most spoken phrase around this topic, “we have such great players but we’ll never catch up to New Zealand” is probably Nick Mallett’s favourite phrase, but it doesn’t help, at all! Athletes already have this self-imposed pressure and standard to reach, fans and media really don’t help when they add to it, especially in this day and age. Our tweets, comments and posts don’t go unnoticed, media these days isn’t only radio and T.v and if we carry on adding to the pressure, South Africa’s big 3 won’t bring anything home.
For our teams to succeed, South Africa needs to put governing bodies, media and fans in check when their actions negatively impact the collective goal that the country has for these sports. So as we wait for the Rugby WC, let us consider some of these things.