After a Limpopo-based amateur football club said they were excluded from a soccer tournament last week for fielding black players, allegations of a racist culture dominating so-called ‘Indian-owned’ soccer clubs have been doing the rounds. But, say analysts, the rumours are rather simplistic; they exclude both the complexities of competitive sport and the South African context. By KHADIJA PATEL.
Last week, a sensational story surfaced of racial exclusion during a soccer tournament in Azaadville on the West Rand. Mohseen Hansrod, manager of the Mokopane Young Boys FC from Limpopo, alleged his team was forced out of the tournament owing to its inclusion of a black player.
The club involved, however, has said the accusers are just sore losers.
Hansrod has gone on record saying he was approached by Azaadville officials during a game against a Benoni club. The hosts reportedly said they had received a complaint from Benoni against the inclusion of black players.
After an Azaadville player was quoted in The New Age last week saying a Mokopane team had not participated in the tournament, the club has since released a statement on its website vehemently rejecting the allegations.
“[Mokopane] played the first game with its full team, without exception, and lost; and therefore, in a very unsporting manner, did not return to the second day of the festival,” the Azaadville statement claimed.
Hansrod, however, said his team lost their first game in a penalty shoot-out and, following the match, took the decision as team to withdraw from the tournament in protest against the policy of racial exclusion.
“After the game, a meeting was held between us, officials of [Mokopane team management], and players. We, as a team, decided to withdraw from the tournament under protest, prior to receiving a decision from AUFC on our future status in the tournament,” he said.
Azaadville claims the tournament rules only prohibited the inclusion of “professional players”.
One tournament organiser insisted privately to Daily Maverick that they had no further comment in the matter, saying issue had been resolved.
The row has now descended into the word of Hansrod and his team against the word of the Azaadville organisers. Other Azaadville residents, however, have corroborated Hansrod’s perception of racism in the game and say that even if racist policies are not inked in the official rules, they exist, and are common knowledge. They say the incident is typical of a culture of prejudice within “Indian soccer” in and around Gauteng.
Yusuf Basha*, an official from a Johannesburg team, said his team routinely received invitations to tournaments that stipulated no black players were allowed.
He said, “Usually when we receive invitations for tournaments, especially tournaments out of Johannesburg, the exclusion of black players is conveyed by the hosts by word of mouth.”
He says that even when black players do participate in Indian-organised leagues and tournaments, their experience is marred by racial abuse.
“You see it on the field. Black players get kicked around a lot more; they get verbally abused in the worst way,” Basha said. “But you see the opposite in a match against white players. It’s like they are too scared to do the same thing.”
Zayd Fredricks, who coaches a team at a soccer academy in Eldorado Park, said he had experienced first-hand the suspicion of skilled black players.
“This issue of racial prejudice is a can of worms,” Fredricks said.
He insists, however, that this behaviour is not unique to Indian teams.
“We have experienced this kind of thing from black teams, white teams, coloured teams,” he said. “As soon as a player appears to be doing well, suspicions are raised and questions are asked about his eligibility.”
Basha believes that in the context of tournaments like the Azaadville soccer festival last week, the exclusion of black players stems from the belief that black players are physically stronger than Indian players. “They feel a team of black players has an unfair advantage over the rest of the tournament.”
Johannesburg sociologist Shafinaaz Hassim says perceptions of racial difference are linked to – and further entrenched by – everyday actions, like a soccer tournament.
“As a notoriously insular community that has predicated itself on self-preservation, we’ve brought [racist attitudes] into the present day,” she said.
Hassim, however, points out that it is a mistake to assume that the racism dominating soccer leagues and tournaments is wholly representative of the Indian community, adding that the South African context is rather more complex.
“Once you’ve removed the reasons for common cause – the Indian community has ample examples of activism in the non-racial movement against Apartheid – the current feeling is somewhat diluted,” she said. “You’re seeing instances of crass racism on the soccer field.”
She points out as well that the current storm over racism within “Indian” soccer belies the legacy of the Dynamos football club, which she described as a political space built on non-racialism in sport.
The Dynamos club was a multi-racial club which, in its heyday in the 1970s, was coached by Ismail Pahad, brother of former ministers Essop and Aziz, and current Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igeseund, as well as Bloemfontein Celtic assistant coach Boebie Solomons.
Their legacy, however, is a far cry from the picture of an elite racial clique that emerges from discussions with players, officials and managers of Indian-owned teams.
“I’m seeing more and more insular binding of racial groups,” Hassim said. “The ‘born frees’ are living and perceiving racial pride as individual superiority.”
Her view is echoed by the experience of soccer players in the community.
“I think Indian teams have to get rid of the feeling that black players are better at them at football but inferior to them in every other way,” Basha said.
“Race is still hugely problematic in many circles in South African society,” Hassim added.
And perhaps the reality of the problem lies in the fact that after 18 years as a purportedly rainbow nation, we are still talking about “Indian teams” and “black players”. The carefully constructed boundaries of race that made Apartheid could not die a miraculous death in 1994, but the suspicion and fear of one against the other in a setting as supposedly benign as an amateur soccer tournament is a reminder that while policies of racial exclusion disappeared from the official rule books, they still exist by word of mouth. DM
*Not his real name.
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik.
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