At last, a feel-good story for the South African game. Banyana Banyana returned to South Africa to a heroes’ welcome at OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday evening and it was thoroughly deserved, even if they were edged out in the 2018 Africa Cup of Nations final by Nigeria.
Fans packed into the airport to cheer on Desiree Ellis and her charges, after they returned having secured a place at a World Cup finals for the first time ever. In France next year, Banyana will take on the world, the culmination of years of hard work that also saw them play in successive Olympic Games in London and Rio de Janeiro.
The scenes showed just how passionate South Africans can be about the Beautiful Game, and how thirsty we are for success, particularly after Bafana Bafana have let the nation down time and time again. There are those who say we should not compare the two national teams, but why shouldn’t we when it is staring us in the face – a men’s team still on a downward spiral while Banyana’s star just continues to rise.
The subject of remuneration for Banyana’s players has rightly been a talking point for some time, with the side horribly underpaid for their efforts. It was great to see sponsors Sasol offer healthy bonuses to the team ahead of the Women’s Afcon final, but that should only be the beginning.
South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan has called for more sponsors to come on board and help, and one hopes World Cup qualification does significantly raise Banyana’s profile.
Sasol proved somewhat prophetic when they gave up sponsorship of the men’s Under-23 team and put their money behind the women’s game.
The stature of the women’s game is growing globally by the year, and hopefully South Africa will keep pace. Safa, frankly, would be better off getting government to back the women’s game than to get them to back any bid to host the 2019 Caf Africa Cup of Nations.
The Confederation of African Football have again turned to the association, it seems, after they had to strip Cameroon of the right to host next year’s tournament.
If South Africa do host the Afcon, it will be the third time they have done so as a fall-back option, after 1996 and 2013, neither of which were originally given to the Rainbow Nation.
Caf are looking for a country that could host the tournament at the drop of a hat, and South Africa certainly fits that bill.
Yet it does have to be questioned whether it would be financially worth hosting the competition for Safa, who already have their problems in that regard. How well-attended would a competition be on such short notice? And should Safa keep pandering to Caf, however much grace it may grant to the association?
Furthermore, as much as South Africa would get a back-door entry into the competition, by virtue of hosting, it would feel horrendously undeserved if they lose their final Afcon qualifier to Libya in March, and fail to make it via their efforts on the field.
It has become a hurtful joke in recent years that Bafana usually only qualify for tournaments they host.
Finally, a reminder that you can still enter Phakaaathi’s Private Fantasy League, for a chance to win great prizes. Simply turn to Page 7 of this week’s supplement, and follow the competition rules.
Also don’t forget to enter Phakaaathi’s Player of the Month competition. The nominees are on Page 7, with instructions on how to take part on Page 5.
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