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Squeaky bum time in election 2019 — and Premiership r...

Defend Truth


Squeaky bum time in election 2019 — and Premiership races


Richard Calland is a respected political commentator and analyst, who writes about sport and society for a variety of media outlets. He is co-author of The Vuvuzela Revolution: Anatomy of Africa's First World Cup and co-producer of Channel4-commissioned documentary, Black Star: An African Footballing Odyssey.

Like the great man himself, Sir Alex Ferguson’s finest bon mot was punchy and to the point. His famous reference to how the final weeks of the race for the English Premiership was ‘squeaky bum time’ hit the nail on the head: Winning titles – like elections – is about not losing your nerve when the pressure is really on in the final furlong of the campaign.

The bums of Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester United are certainly squeaking, though not as loudly as the trapdoor that awaits Cyril Ramaphosa if the ANC’s share of the vote in the upcoming 8 May poll falls below 55% or, perish the thought, it loses its majority – not good news for anyone, except, perhaps, Jacob Zuma.

Alas, the bottom has fallen out of my team, Arsenal, who have contrived to lose three games in a row just when it mattered most.

Liverpool are keeping their nerve, but so too are Manchester City, still one point ahead with two games to play.

In India, a bunch of city-state teams are competing for the remaining two spots in the playoffs.

The outcomes matter a great deal for the futures of many high-profile protagonists. DA leader Mmusi Maimane will be squeezing his buttocks right now, fearful that the “official” opposition fails to either increase its share of the vote or push the ANC under 50% in Gauteng.

If the Kolkata Knight Riders fail, then its fanatical followers will not forgive Protea legend Jacques Kallis, their coach, for his stubbornly refusing to put West Indian Andre Russell higher up the order when he is in such rich, six-hitting form. Kallis’s rectum must be quivering too, one might think, if one cares to think about such a thing at all.

Whether in Manchester or Kolkata, or Johannesburg, the stress levels are at breaking point, driving supporters and leaders to the verge of insanity.

For ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, it is clearly all a bit too much. This last week he reached and then powered past his breaking point like a Russell drive over cow corner – a picture, both of them, of brutal brawn and gangster gait.

Russell has challenged Kallis’s decision-making in an ill-advised press conference, just as Magashule stood before the press the other day to challenge the authority of his leader, Ramaphosa.

The stakes seem very high all round. With marginally varying degrees of bling and bluster, these three races are close to reaching their dramatic denouements. In just under two weeks’ time, we will know the answer to three questions: Has the ANC secured a big enough win to give President Ramaphosa the political space within his own troubled party to enable him to pursue his reform agenda with greater decisiveness? Have Liverpool won their first ever Premiership title and which two other teams alongside them and Manchester City will qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League? And, who has emerged as winners of the Indian Premier League – the world’s most glamorous and lucrative cricket tournament?

The final result of the 2019 election is likely to be known by Saturday 11 May. Twenty-four hours later at stadiums in the north-west of England, in its capital city London, and in Hyderabad, tense conclusions will be drawn.

There are likely to be twists in all of these tales and addicts of both cricket and football will be flicking between numerous DSTV channels – there is a direct clash in timing between the two premier leagues.

Thankfully, by then the 2019 election will be done and dusted. It has lacked sporting drama or any real narrative at all. It has been a messy, incoherent and lacklustre campaign. Unlike the two premier leagues, South Africa’s political parties appear to be short on liquidity – not a charge that has ever been laid at the door of either the ELP or the IPL, whose rich political economy demonstrates the soft power of sport in the modern era.

Only Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters have delivered even a modicum of charisma and panache – and even then one knows that like the IPL, it is a shallow, populist pantomime.

Inside the packed Indian cricket grounds, India’s new elite parade their newfound wealth and power. Meanwhile billions of Indians follow the proceedings avidly, but from the vantage point of lives that are in the great majority of cases miserably insecure and precarious.

That is sport: It enables hallucination. It is the great escape. It captures the imagination and stirs the soul probably far more often and with greater intensity than any election campaign. Yet, without for one moment conceding any ground to those aloof self-appointed intellectuals who fail to be entranced by sport’s grand allure and who regard it as Marx’s modern day “opiate of the masses”, the truth is that is just a game.

And so to end with that other great Scottish manager who led an English team to years and years of triumph – Bill Shankly, with Liverpool in the 1970s: His most famous quote was, like Ferguson’s years later, no less compelling. “Football”, said Shankly, “is not a matter of life and death. It is far more important than that.”

The weekend after next, for tens if not hundreds of millions of Indians and even more followers of English football clubs around the globe, the events unfolding will seem far more important than life and death.

But at least for South Africans, the real stuff of life and death will have unfolded a few days earlier, on 8 May. Arsenal and probably even the Kolkata Knight Riders will live to fight another day. But South Africa may not get many more chances to recover its senses. DM


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