The Bounce
Doing it for the fans

South African sport is in recession.


Negative news trumps the positive stuff when it comes to clicks and views nowadays. But this article headline is not clickbait, but sadly to highlight a simply undeniable state of affairs.

South African sport is in a deep recession.

There is no growth, there is no real success, and the outlook much like the South African economy itself, suggests the worst is still to come.

The sporting GDP over the past few years has been woeful, and the current situation is more dire than many could have ever forecasted. 

The Proteas haven’t just failed at the latest ICC Cricket World Cup. They all but failed to pitch up. A team with very little purpose that never seemed able to compete in games, let alone win them.

After another below par season of Springbok results, SA’s best two SupeRugby teams simply made up the numbers in the bloated knockout stage of the tournament. All while an Argentinian team topped the ‘African’ conference to offer any hope of challenging the New Zealanders. 

Bafana Bafana continue to be nothing more than also rans on the African continent. Qualifying for AFCON is all good and well, but knowing the group stages of such a tournament is their Everest is somewhat sobering considering the comparative resources at their disposal.

Banyana Banyana were a pleasant distraction recently, right up until this still amateur outfit had their hopes and dreams crushed by professional teams decades ahead of them in all footballing ways. They sadly didn’t stand a chance, but compared to the Proteas, at least they gave us the impression their World Cup meant the world to them. 

But are we just going through a transitional phase? A bit of a dip before an exciting ‘new dawn’. Well when you probe a little further you may be forgiven to think the sporting recession we speak of here is actually more like a sporting depression.

South Africa has always had terrific sporting talent, and in more amateur times this was often all that was needed for success. Sport has evolved though into a well oiled business globally where every cog has to be fine tuned for excellence. Much of South African sport has not however. With short sighted political interference, amateurish management structures and the stench of corruption and mismanagement never too far away, there is no wonder things are where they are right now. Added to that the allure of foreign playing opportunities and currencies for top talent, and the problems become layered and seemingly insurmountable. 

Sure there are a few glimmers of hope within individual sporting stars, but by and large and especially in the major team sports, things are close to crises.

But this you of course already know. One thing that isn’t discussed enough is how we got to this stage though. Because in doing so we can hopefully find a way back from the abyss, and trend in the right direction to being globally competitive in future.

With the Rand about as strong as the Proteas batting lineup right now, it’s no wonder the best players in cricket and rugby have their sights set overseas. This is a reality of professional sport of course. With players’ focus elsewhere though, it’s difficult to expect them to add much to the domestic game. But it’s not just the top flight that is missing from the domestic structures, it’s the layer below that too who are also plying their trades overseas, and often for different countries completely. 

To take the Proteas for example, on paper they look a decent international team, but the job security that serial under performers like David Miller and JP Duminy have enjoyed over the years, suggests there is very little fresh talent coming through that is equipped to take on the world stage. It is no secret that domestic cricket in South Africa is weak. Tabraiz Shamsi can be virtually unplayable in the Momentum One Day Cup, but toss him the ball against India in an ODI and he gets swotted around for fun by the opposition batsmen. Unless our players are genuinely tested at every level en route to the top, they will never be fully ready for the big stages.

People joke that there are more South African professional rugby players plying their trade outside of the country than within it. Again, not a completely terrible thing as these players are gaining valuable global experience they can bring to the Bok set up. But what is happening domestically at the SupeRugby franchises and below? The standards are low, so players are reaching the top levels without the actual expertise to perform there. When the thin level of excellence at the Springbok setup is then compromised through injury or lack of form to incumbent players, there is little to call upon to keep the team at full strength. If you disagree with that, just look at how the best players are played into the ground as teams know rotating first choice options significantly lessens their chances of victory.

SA football is in a slightly more difficult situation. The sport of football is far more internationally competitive as it is literally played by the whole world. So whereas in rugby and cricket the best clubs in the world have a handful of countries to pick the best talent from, in football there is all of Europe, South America, Africa and even Asia to scout from. As an indication of how strong South Africa’s talent is, very few of their players are ever sought after internationally, and even when it is it is for lesser known league and clubs.

But why is the next level of talent so weak in South African cricket and rugby, or in football generally? Surely even with top players moving overseas, there should be enough coming through the ranks to keep competition strong. Sadly not, as nothing has really been done for them to be internationally competitive. 

After political isolation, South Africa really should have been in a position to unlock a whole new world of talent previously sidelined through racial segregation. So what happened? Efforts here have been superficial at best sadly. Grass roots development has been poorly managed, resources have been squandered, and inept and downright amateurish administrators has enriched themselves before anyone else. Coaching hasn’t been developed enough, facilities haven’t been created to increase player numbers, and those that have via various initiatives haven’t had long term goals and management plans.

Fans have become disillusioned with it all too, and are tired of their expectations constantly being pegged back. As their interest and support reseeds, so too the revenues for their teams and sporting codes. The follow on from this lack of interest is a lessening of value for sponsors who used to flock to support sporting outfits. This is a vicious circle that is building up an alarming head of steam, and we simply can’t be ignorant to it anymore.

Real world economics aside, that word excellence is the big thing to focus on here. South Africa as a country has become so used to mediocrity, that a concept like excellence can never really be realised. Poor administration and an unnatural focus on equality and racially representation is sadly never going to get the country anywhere. Though necessary steps must, and have been taken in trying to reverse historical wrongs, the act of forcing outcomes rather than fixing the systems that can naturally create them is fundamentally flawed. 

It is the very opposite of excellence, and South Africa has become so utterly obsessed with their political narratives that they have forgotten about their place as a global player. The fans haven’t of course, we get reminded of this by poor results on the world stage. Every other sporting nation out there is focused on excellence. They are all focused on actually developing talent, getting the right people in the right positions on and off the field of play. They all run things like a business, It makes them internationally competitive, and allows them to experience growth on the back of hard work.

It also lends itself to creating winning habits and cultures. Absolute essentials when looking to make the most of your resources and talents. What cultures do SA teams currently have? Losing ones, losing ones that aren’t focused on excellence so therefore will continue to just tread water and nothing more.

Political interference has long dogged sport in South Africa, and years of this taking place is starting to show. Nothing good can come from it, so it needs to be moved on from after years of thinking it will help. The irony is if we simply focused on systems of excellence we would get the teams that every politician dreams of. The local black talent would thrive and reach heights that would dominate on a world stage, and put South Africa back on the map of sporting excellence. To think there has to be any sort of system in place for black talent to truly succeed is patronising at best. Downright racist at worst.

We need the best possible coaches to work with the talent we have, from high school level and up, absolutely zero political interference or involvement, and we need to commit to this for the future to see us get out of this sporting recession.

So called ‘people of power’ will promise the world to keep themselves in positions of power. But before they get to a stage of telling players they will travel to matches in bullet trains and play in smart stadiums of the future with adoring fans, we have to remember they are the problem. And also they have no history of excellence at all so cannot be trusted. 

I will leave you with a small twitter exchange below to prove this point. 


Here we have one of the greatest cricketers of all time (globally) clearly stating how far the Proteas have fallen that teams don’t even need to play their best anymore to beat them. The response from a well known ex-minister of sport instantly missed that point, made it about race, and then failed to make any sense whatsoever. A truly mediocre individual in every sense of the word.

Him and his ilk are the reason South Africa are in a recession. Both sporting and economic. Time for us to admit this, and act accordingly. 

Tags: south african sport, sporting recession, sporting depression, south african sport quotas


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