Banyana Banyana take fight to Safa as they boycott send-off match
A match against Botswana, which was supposed to serve as a farewell for Banyana Banyana before their World Cup departure, ended up being a dead rubber owing to various issues and concerns in the lead-up to it.
It was supposed to be a special day. A special occasion for South African soccer fans to show their love and appreciation for the reigning African champions before they depart to represent the country at their second consecutive Fifa World Cup.
Instead, Sunday, 2 July descended into chaos due to a standoff between the players who have been selected for the global showpiece this month, and the South African Football Association (Safa).
By the end of it all, a makeshift squad of players who had started the day not even aware that they were set to wear South Africa’s colours in an international fixture, were trounced 5-0 by their neighbours.
Most disappointed of all would have been the throngs of supporters who heeded the call to pack into Tsakane Stadium in Ekurhuleni, since the match was delayed by an hour while the association scrambled to assemble a secondary squad to honour the fixture.
There were already questions about whether playing against Botswana, as tough as they are, was the right sort of send-off and preparation for the South Africans. However, Banyana coach Desiree Ellis was diplomatic when responding to such questions.
“Botswana plays differently to the way our opposition [at the World Cup] are going to play. But for us, we’re looking further than this game,” she told journalists on the team’s last open media day before they leave for New Zealand, where all their World Cup games will be played.
When the match finally arrived, Ellis, with tears welling at her pre-match conference with SABC Sport, simply said: “We had to put a team on the field. So, we have a team on the field today.”
When the final whistle blew there was little surprise about the scoreline. Perhaps the only shock was that the Mares didn’t add even more gloss to the score.
Days before the match there was already an indication that the Banyana players were not willing to play the fixture. They were not happy with the condition of the pitch in Tsakane, fearing they would probably suffer injuries on the eve of the World Cup.
Their concerns were valid too. After all, this stadium has twice been banned by the Premier Soccer League for not being up to standard to host its matches.
So, it boggles the mind why Safa felt it was appropriate for hosting the last match of the African champions on home soil before the World Cup. The indication from the association was that other venues were undergoing maintenance and could not be booked.
However, the biggest point of contention between Safa and the World Cup-bound Banyana squad is a financial one.
World soccer’s governing body Fifa confirmed recently that every player participating at the global showpiece will pocket in excess of R500,000 (at least) for their presence in the tournament.
Unlike previous tournaments, where the respective national associations were paid by Fifa and were responsible for player remuneration, this time the mother body will pay the players directly.
Banyana Banyana’s players also want the association to chip in with its own financial incentive, over and above the money they will receive from Fifa.
“The players are being unreasonable in their demands. What Fifa has committed to giving them is way more than we have committed to any of the national teams previously, including Bafana Bafana (the men’s senior national team),” Safa’s chief financial officer, Gronie Hluyo, was quoted as saying by News24.
Minister of Sport Zizi Kodwa has also expressed concern about the unfolding events. Especially since Banyana are scheduled to leave for World Cup duty later this week.
Though Kodwa can’t directly intervene in the fracas (as stipulated by Fifa, or South Africa might face a ban), he said he is willing to play intermediary.
In the meantime, “the minister urges the team to be focused on the major task that lies ahead. [The task] of taking every opportunity to prepare, participate and display their immense skill and talent on one of the biggest sporting showcases in the world”.
Gauteng premier Panyana Lesufi said at a media conference that negotiations between Banyana players and Safa led to a draft contract being shared last Monday, 26 July.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Tough decisions for Desiree Ellis as she shapes Banyana World Cup squad
“The first contract was given to the players on Monday, but the players came a bit later wanting certain amendments,” Lesufi said.
“The final amendments and the collective package from the players were only received on Saturday, but that didn’t mean Safa wasn’t prepared to listen to the contract.
“Now that they’ve got the contract, they are in a position to deal with this matter and ensure it is resolved.
“It was around 9.30 on Sunday morning (2 July) that an official communique came that the players weren’t going to honour the game. The president (Safa president Danny Jordaan) was aware at 10am, from where he had to scramble to find a team to represent the brand.”
The events of recent days will affect Banyana Banyana’s performance at the global showpiece. Whether they will be left galvanised or dejected remains to be seen. The 26-woman playing squad plus management is set to leave for New Zealand on 5 July.
First, though, Safa and the players must find common ground. A meeting between the association, the South African Footballers’ Union and the minister is scheduled for Tuesday. DM