How the hell did Khune win this one?


Harare – South African sport is littered with a number of bizarre moments, none bigger than that farcical and unforgettable evening in Nelspruit two years ago when Bafana Bafana prematurely celebrated qualification for the 2012 Nations Cup finals.

With their officials having interpreted the rules wrongly, Bafana Bafana were convinced that their goalless draw against Sierra Leone was enough to book them a place at the Nations Cup in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea on goal difference and even went on a lap of honour, as they celebrated in front of their fans at the Mbombela Stadium.

However, it soon dawned on them that Niger had, instead, qualified on the head-to-head points but the sight of their players and coach, Pitso Mosimane, soaking in the hour they believed represented triumph when it marked disaster, will never fade away from their memory.

The cheerleader of that Bafana Bafana celebration party was their goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune , who is now the captain of the national team, and in another bizarre episode in South African sport, the Kaizer Chiefs ‘keeper was named 2013 South African Sports Star of the Year at an event held on November 16, 2013.

As with all South African sport awards galas, this year’s ceremony was a glitzy show in Sun City, screened live on SuperSport 4, and it gave the winner of the Sports Star of the Year award a cool R1 million (about US$100 000), a new BMW luxury vehicle and half of that cash prize, R500 000 (about US$50 000), will be donated to a charity of his choice.

Khune captained Kaizer Chiefs to a league and cup double this year in the South African Premiership and beat swimming sensation Chad le Clos, who won the award last year, master batsman Hashim Amla, and history-making wheelchair tennis, star Lucas Sithole and distance runner Mapaseka Makhanya.

“I think all of us sitting in this room are champions. We are all winners,” Khune said after accepting his award as the outstanding sportsperson in South Africa this year. “We all deserve to be walking away with this award, but unfortunately, only one can.”

The public was tasked with voting for the winner of the most prestigious award that could be bestowed on a South African sportsperson for his or her heroics in 2013.

But, therein, lies the graphic flaw of this voting process and with fans usually guided by the emotion of their attachment with their heroes, which means they are likely to further the interests of someone from the team they support while being blinded from the achievements of others who do not belong either to their teams or sporting discipline, such a process is bound to produce a shocker.

When you turn what should be a noble exercise that should give you the best performing athlete into your country into something that resembles the search for the winner of the Big Brother Africa reality show star, then you know you are leaving yourself at the mercy of some shocking choices.

And, last Sunday night, in producing Khune as the outstanding sportsperson in South Africa in 2013, the voting process produced one hell of an absolute shocker that should leave the Rainbow Nation with the same long face that greeted the arrival of reality that Bafana Bafana had failed in their quest for the 2012 Nations Cup finals despite putting up their best dancing show at the Mbombela Stadium.

Admittedly, Khune shone brightly as Chiefs won the league and cup double this year but this was largely a competition on the home front and, in a year in which their rivals Orlando Pirates went all the way to the final of the African Champions League, the Amakhosi success story was put in its proper context.

Khune captained the Bafana Bafana team that failed on home soil, in the 2013 Nations Cup finals, when they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Mali, failing to follow in the footsteps of the Class of ’96 that hosted and won the Nations Cup in South Africa.

Khune’s Bafana Bafana also failed to win their qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup finals, which many seasoned observers believed was the easiest of all groups, as they were choked by surprise packages Ethiopia.

There was also that humiliation where Bafana Bafana, having been given all three points for a qualifier they lost in Ethiopia after their opponents were punished for using an ineligible player, Khune and his troops still finished behind the East Africans, after six games, with the Ethiopians getting the ticket to take on Nigeria in the final qualifier.

Against such a background of failure on the international scene, whether in the Nations Cup and World Cup, how then was it possible that Khune could be voted SA Sports Star of the Year ahead of Hashim Amla, who had another incredible season with the bat, Le Clos, who smashed another world record in the pool, and Sithole, who won a Major at the United States in a landmark triumph for Africa?

Amla remains one of the best two ranked Test batsman in the world, is also top of the table in the world in the ODIs, and was part of the Proteas team that is still the number one ranked Test team in the world and, until their defeat by Pakistan last month, had gone for 15 Test matches without being beaten, a record for South African Cricket.

The irony of it all is that the Proteas, for whom Amla was the shining star, were voted the Team of the Year, which was not determined by the public, but their best player during the course of the year was deemed not good enough for the individual award.

Swimmer Le Clos smashed his own 200m butterfly short course world record in Singapore and was the dominant male swimmer in the Fina World Cup series in 2013 while Sithole became the first African to win a US Open title in the singles after winning the wheelchair quad singles title against America’s David Wagner.

The majority of South Africans, who are black, are football fans and while they embrace Amla and Le Clos as their heroes, in a contest, it’s very likely that they will vote for a footballer than a cricketer or a swimmer and, in terms of the sheer volume of numbers, Khune was always going to have an edge. Chiefs, his club, have the largest fan base in South Africa and their fans, who are well organised, might have gone into overdrive in their voting for their man irrespective of the fact that Amla, Sithole and Le Clos carried credentials whose weight could only be measured in gold. Whichever way you look at this one, Khune did not deserve the big one.

November 2013
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