The big Iron Duke question — will Irvin Khoza step down after more than 20 years?

The big Iron Duke question — will Irvin Khoza step down after more than 20 years?
Premier Soccer League chairperson Irvin Khoza talks to the media at PSL headquarters in Johannesburg on 29 July 2022. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

With the Premier Soccer League elections a few months away, it is unclear whether Irvin Khoza will stand for re-election.

Over the past few decades, Premier Soccer League (PSL) chairperson Irvin Khoza has firmly established himself as one of the most important administrators, not just in football, but also in the overall realm of South African sport.

Khoza is one of the founding members of the PSL, which consists of two tiers and was founded in 1996. The two divisions are the top-flight DStv Premiership, and the second division, also known as the Motsepe Foundation Championship. 

Out of all his positive contributions to South African sport, one of the most significant feathers in Khoza’s cap is being chairperson of the local organising committee that brought the 2010 Fifa World Cup to South Africa.

In addition, the 76-year-old has served as chairperson of the PSL since 2003, and was re-elected unopposed in the last elections in November 2020. By the time this year’s elections come around, Khoza will have been in one of the most important jobs in South African football  for 21 years.

Imminent departure?

However, a recent report in the Sunday World alluded to the fact that the Iron Duke’s family has called on the patriarch of the Khoza household to step down from his position so that he can enjoy the fruits of his labour.

There has always been a notion that Khoza, who is also the owner and chairperson of Orlando Pirates, has stayed in his position too long.

Of course, just like South African Football Association (Safa) president Danny Jordaan, Khoza has always said that he has remained in his position with the support of the PSL board of governors, which is made up of representatives from all 32 member clubs. That Khoza was elected unopposed four years ago certainly points to this being true.

However, he has also faced criticism in the past, most notably in 2018 when Black Leopards owner David Thidiela wrote a scathing letter to Safa and Fifa requesting that a commission of inquiry be set up to investigate the running of the PSL.

Nothing ever came of this, despite the frosty relationship between Khoza and Jordaan that has played its part in holding back the growth of South African football.

The PSL, and by extension Khoza, has also been criticised for the concept of clubs being able to buy their way into the two leagues it runs.

In recent years South African football was dealt a massive blow when two teams with a rich history, Bloemfontein Celtic and Wits, had to close shop because of financial struggles.

TS Galaxy boss Tim Sukazi.

Tim Sukazi, chairperson of TS Galaxy, at a media open day at St Stithians College in Johannesburg on 17 August 2022. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

SuperSport United boss Stan Matthews.

SuperSport United boss Stan Matthews at the SuperSport United Player Awards held at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg on 22 May 2023. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

Irvin Khoza

John Comitis of Cape Town City. (Photo: BackpagePix)

They were taken over by Royal AM and Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila respectively. Khoza has said the league’s hands are tied in this regard. 

“Preserving history is one of the things that is in our requirements when you consider the application [to buy a status]. Football is about history,” Khoza stated. 

“But it is tricky because the constitution says there should be free economic activity. With the state of the economy, how do you stop someone from selling? Everyone is bleeding right now.”

Khoza has also been criticised for not appointing a permanent PSL chief executive. Golden Arrows owner Mato Madlala has been acting CEO since 2015.

The longer Madlala has remained in her acting capacity, the more questions have been raised about a club boss holding such an influential position, which would traditionally be held by an independent individual, with no ties to the league.

However, Khoza has always said it is the will of the league’s members that Madlala stay on in her role.

“We are being given that kind of menu to say we must have independent people but they also have agendas. They come in, take the league and make it their fiefdom,” Khoza has also said of an independent CEO in the past.

Big shoes to fill

In spite of some of the criticism he has received, Khoza is hugely respected. When the league has lost sponsors, through his reach he has been able to replace them in the blink of an eye, ensuring that the PSL continues to thrive.

In fact, before the slippery slope that South Africa currently finds itself on after Covid, the PSL posted revenue of R1-billion in 2019. Thus Khoza commands respect for what he has done to help the PSL become one of the richest leagues in Africa.

“I always say people can… criticise Khoza… but he has been a phenomenon. He has done very well to take football to where it is, together with some of his colleagues, of course,” Santos owner Goolam Allie told FARPost about the Iron Duke’s contributions.

“I am not necessarily saying there is nobody to take over the reins. But it’s big shoes to fit into. They are really big shoes to fit in,” he added.

“When you look at the PSL and South African football… you can’t have somebody who doesn’t understand the dynamics of our communities, our history, the people and the economy and everything that goes with it.”

Khoza, who operates like a submarine (in contrast to the bravado and “come-get-me attitude” displayed by his rival Jordaan), has always said his successor should be someone with a rich history in local football. Not just on the field, but off it too.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Meet five young shooting starlets who shone among brightest in latest edition of PSL

“There are also some ex-players, who I always advise that it is nice to [say] that you must be given a chance, but they don’t get involved in their local ­football associations (LFAs),” ­Khoza said.

“Some of us who have operated from LFAs know the value chain. From the LFA, all the way up to where we are today. I was a cashier. I was a gate controller and it was not demeaning to be that. I did that job because it was in-service training to understand the industry better. So, when people speak, I know exactly what they are talking about.”

Seismic decision

Should the Iron Duke choose to step down, it would be a seismic decision, for both those who support him and his critics.

There are some people who are capable of taking over from Khoza. Names that have always come up when the topic of his eventual departure has arisen include SuperSport United boss Stan Matthews, Tim Sukazi of TS Galaxy and the experienced John Comitis of Cape Town City.

Matthews warned, though, that it won’t be easy to replace Khoza: “In today’s culture, people want change and want to see it quickly. With this one, we have to be careful.”

Should Khoza depart, it may also be an opportunity to recreate the model and bring in an independent board to run the league. This is highly unlikely, though. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


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