THE Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) contest which is coming to a close this weekend has again ignited the wish for a sporting triumph to most South Africans' souls.
Many people could never have envisaged themselves being excited about the Bafana Bafana team, as it failed to impress before the Afcon tourney.
But many have found themselves interested in the team’s performance this time around and have even called for Afcon’s message to be more on the benefits of this particular sporting activity. According to them, this will expand the pool of young, talented players and even attract them to the sport.
The South African organisers of the tourney have often suggested that the event will inspire a generation. If soccer helps to take children away from their poverty-stricken reality and encourage them to engage in real life sporting activity, the massive coverage given to the Afacon would be entirely justified.
It is important too that we continue to invest in the sport. Soccer is by far one of South Africa’s most successful sporting activities. While it has been the beneficiary of significant investment from government and the private sector, there are clubs up and down the country working from the most basic of facilities.
We cannot expect national sporting success while neglecting the grassroots.
As someone said of Bafana’s performance during Afcon, it's likely as a nation we will forget about soccer until our first game at the Brazil World Cup 2014 - and then expect a great performance having failed to support the sport for a year.
Support should be manifold. It should include pouring more money into all the grassroots levels of the game. This will allow scouts to reach the far-flung areas to unearth good talent. There are many amazing players that are not in the professional league who should be tapped.
South Africa should also allow club coaches to willingly release players for all call ups. This has always been a snag in local soccer.
Another problem-solver would be for South Africans to change their negative attitude towards anything South African.
While the world was watching these interesting games, South Africans were practising some of their own beloved sports: grumpiness, expecting the worst and swearing at the authorities.
The opening ceremony alone at Soweto’s National Stadium (popularly known as FNB Stadium) late last month was beamed to a viewing audience of 1 billion people around the world.
But only this week, municipalities that splashed out on getting their cities ready for Afcon were criticised for this, with critics saying this was money wasted as they would not get a return on their investment.
Some host cities, still struggling with cash flow after the 2010 World Cup, spent hundreds of millions of rands on transport and safety plans for the tournament, now in its final stages.
The final will be played on Sunday between Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
Independent Online (IOL) reported that Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality cut R11.6m from its annual service delivery budget just to pay for the tournament.
According to IOL, other media outlets also reported that the Mbombela Municipality in Nelspruit did not have a complete business plan underpinning its hosting of Afcon, nor did they sign a memorandum of understanding to get R31.5m from national government for visiting teams and support staff.
Organisers were criticised for also missing a crucial opportunity to use the event to market the country on the African continent.
Dr Nikolaus Eberl, branding guru and chief executive of Johannesburg-based reputation management company BrandOvation, told IOL: “It appears that many consumers experience this tournament as an anti-climax.”
The news media have added to the general sense of woe, with many accounts of glitches. The Mbombela Stadium’s pitch before the match between Ghana and Burkina Faso is a case in point. But the end result was that a good competitive match was played on the same pitch without any mishaps.
But the fact of the matter is that the tournament was flighted throughout the world. This means many people got to know this country and what it is all about. I am sure that not many people were repulsed by what they saw, infrastructure and all.
Municipalities that splurged millions on this event should be applauded for making sure that the event became a success I believe it was.
Even in the best of times, whining is part of South Africa’s national malaise. Many South Africans feel that they are getting the worst part of the Afcon tourney - the cost and the trouble - without any of the benefits.
I think South Africa won kudos again. We had an amazing party. South Africans should change their attitudes.
*Mzwandile Jacks is a freelance journalist. Opinions expressed are his own.
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