South Africa

Analysis

Continued weak response to fan violence makes football authorities complicit

Fans vandalizing the stadium during the 2018 Nedbank Cup match between Kaizer Chiefs and Free State Stars at Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban on 21 April 2018 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

The weak response from all footballing authorities to violence that has marred the sport in South Africa – on more than one occasion in recent memory – is not good enough.

On Saturday night, Kaizer Chiefs crashed out of the Nedbank Cup, losing to Free State Stars and ending the coaching career of embattled Steve Komphela.

What followed was a scene that has become oddly familiar in South African football.

By mid-morning on Sunday, not a single word had been uttered or tweeted by anyone of South Africa’s footballing bosses. The last tweet on the Kaizer Chiefs account was that Steve Komphela had resigned.

On the PSL’s official website, the preview for the weekend’s fixture was the headline feature. A general statement condemning the overall “thuggery” was issued, but it was broad and weak.

By Monday afternoon, chair of the Premier Soccer League, Dr Irvin Khoza, was finally addressing the media. Largely reading from a prepared statement – and willingly answering some questions from members of the media – Khoza offered little more than platitudes.

He, like others, have offered condemnation of the violence and apologised to fans. He promised a full investigation and said that the league would work in conjunction with other stakeholders in South Africa to find a solution.

But the response to the saga which unfolded in full view of live television cameras has been weak from South Africa’s footballing authorities.

It took until late Monday morning for the Kaizer Chiefs Twitter account to even acknowledge anything had happened. The PSL took until the Sunday morning to issue a statement. The Moses Mabhida Stadium Twitter account didn’t spring into action until late Sunday afternoon.

Even as horrific footage of a security guard being brutally assaulted and knocked unconscious was circulating – many believing it was a woman as the police had said – there was seemingly little willingness to restore calm and clarity.

The official stadium account did issue a few responses saying it was a man – but police in Durban had said differently – and nobody could explain where the miscommunication had crept in.

Khoza eventually set the record. On Monday morning.

The promises of investigations and condemnation of the violence ring hollow when it’s considered that we have been here before – just a few weeks ago, in fact.

Just a few days before the Nedbank Cup chaos, Chiefs were fined R250,000 – of which R200,000 was suspended for 24 months – after being found guilty of misconduct for failing to provide adequate security during their defeat to Chippa United on 7 April.

Orlando Pirates were recently ordered to play one game behind closed doors, more than a year after violence marred their match against Mamelodi Sundowns.

You’d need more than one hand to count the incidents of rowdy crowds in what is supposedly the continent’s best run league.

It would be foolish to think rowdy soccer crowds were exclusive to South Africa. They are not. The difference is the response.

Most recently, West Ham banned five fans for life after they invaded the pitch. In 2017, England fans were banned after being caught on camera making Nazi gestures in Germany.

The list of examples is endless.

Across the world, clubs are routinely fined large sums and ordered to play their matches behind closed doors, often more than once a season. It’s time South Africa’s footballing authorities follow suit and act more harshly when these incidents occur.

Soft condemnation in carefully worded statements is not enough.

There is no ignorance here.

A general statement is not good enough.

Silence is not good enough.

Promises are not good enough.

As football fans, we should be outraged.

As human beings we should demand more.

And the authorities need to wake up. Or sponsors should let them feel the consequences.

Because when – not if – this happens again, it will be their fault. DM

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