Blood on the floor at SAFA

Harare – Four years ago the two heavyweights fought a bitter, but ultimately futile, battle to take over the top job in South African football but not even a united starring role, in staging Africa’s first FIFA World Cup show together, appears to have healed the wounds.

Irvin Khoza and Danny Jordaan are the two titans of football administration in South Africa and have been fighting, for years now, to win the biggest seat of them all in their country’s game – the SAFA presidency.

They worked together, as president and chief executive of the Local Organising Committee, which organised Africa’s first FIFA World Cup three years ago and were honoured for their roles in a very successful tournament that confounded pessimism that the logistics would overwhelm the hosts.

But for all the smiles they gave to the world, painting a picture of camaraderie in a united national push to make the FIFA World Cup a success story, the grim reality was that they came from two feuding camps in that country’s volatile football fraternity that have been battling to take control of SAFA.

Four years ago, both men’s camps put them up for the SAFA presidency, but the intensity of the battle was so much that Khoza and Jordaan pulled out of the race, on the day when votes were being cast, leaving the underdog Kirsten Nematandani to be elected unopposed.

Jordaan's eligibility to lead SAFA was questioned by the Premier Soccer League clubs, who were behind Khoza’s candidature, arguing that his position as the chief executive of the 2010 FIFA World Cup LOC meant that he was on SAFA’s payroll and as an employee, could not be expected to challenge for the organisation’s presidency.

Those who opposed Khoza’s candidature, a faction that dubbed itself the Football Transformation Forum, argued that he could not contest the SAFA presidency because his position, as the PSL's vice-president appointee, made him ineligible then to go for the top post in the game.

So stormy was the issue and so huge were the divisions, that those who were conducting the elections were forced to call a panel of legal experts to make a determination on whether the two were eligible to stand for elections but, before a determination could be made, both men pulled out of the race.

Khoza was furious and described the whole process as a farce while outgoing SAFA president, Molife Oliphant, said it was the worst annual general meeting of the organisation that he could remember.

“I'm disappointed and saddened by the way this meeting was conducted. This is the saddest day in the history of SAFA,” Oliphant told journalists.

Four years down the road, the more things have changed, the more they have remained the same.

South African football should be booming, after all the nation successfully hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals, reaped a huge financial windfall from that and that tournament brought a facelift, in some existing grounds, and the building of some new state-of-the-art stadiums.

But for all the big money in South African football, which also boasts of the richest football league on the continent, the reality is that the game has not developed as much as was projected to justify the huge financial investment that has gone into the sport.

Bafana Bafana, the national football team, are a pale shadow of the side that won the Nations Cup, on home soil in 1996, and then played at the 1998 and 2002 World Cup by qualification before being smuggled, as hosts, in the 2010 World Cup finals where they became only the first hosts to fail to make the second round of the tournament.

They haven’t fared any better in the Nations Cup finals, failing to qualify for the 2010 and 2012 tournaments, before being handed a familiar route back to the tournament, as hosts, this year but they were beaten in the quarter-finals by Mali.

Worse still, a damaging match-fixing scandal, involving Bafana Bafana in the countdown to the FIFA 2010 World Cup, has left the game’s image badly battered and Nematandani was suspended by his fellow SAFA leaders before being ushered back into his position after FIFA said due process hadn’t been followed.

Against this gloomy background, what South African football does not need, certainly, is another bruising battle for the SAFA leadership between Khoza and Jordaan but, four years after they duel split the game and inflicted wounds that are yet to heal, the heavyweights are back for the fight.

And, just like four years ago, the battleground has been poisoned.

The Khoza faction are backing their man to be the SAFA president when the elections are held in September but, for that to happen, the constitution will need to be changed a little bit and those who oppose the PSL boss say his advisers missed the cut-off date, for such changes to be made.

The SAFA constitution bars club owners to stand for the organisation’s presidency, which would rule Khoza out of the presidential race since he is the owner of Soweto giants, Orlando Pirates, who won the African Champions League in 1995.

That would leave the way clear for Jordaan to take over as SAFA president.

However, a faction led by SAFA vice-president, Mandla Mazibuko wants Khoza to be president of the organisation and have announced that they intend to submit a proposal to amend the constitution, at the organisation’s extraordinary congress on August 24.

Such an amendment, just weeks before the elections are held, would allow Khoza to run for the SAFA presidency.

But SAFA chief executive, Dennis Mumble, who has also been sucked into the match-fixing row and briefly suspended before being reinstated into his position pending the conclusion of the probe, says those who want to make amendments to the constitution have missed cut-off date.

Mumble said members needed to be given a 30-day notice, advising them of an intention for such an amendment to be made, and this would not be possible with the extraordinary congress set for August 24.

''That deadline was up last Thursday and, besides, there was no call for motions anyway,” Mumble told South Africa’s Sunday newspapers.

''So even on the floor (on the day) it is not possible to amend the constitution in this coming extraordinary congress.”

But, as expected, Khoza and his faction are fighting back and Mazibuko said notification should have been given, by the SAFA chief executive, of the impending deadline.

''Did he give notice of the pending deadline to all the members? The answer is no,” Mazibuko said.

''As we speak, there are regions that have still not received anything. Was it deliberate or was it a mistake? I don't know.” 

Then, there is the little case of Nematandani also wanting to stand again, despite the match-fixing case hanging over his head, for another term.

The battle lines have certainly been opened.

August 2013
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