Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

Dear SuperSport, Afcon doesn’t stand for xenophobia

The most depressing feature of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) has been the mean-spirited attack of so-called ”white, foreign coaches” by leading soccer figures, commentators, players and fans. This reveals an outdated ethnic, tribal essentialism or nationalist view and the inability of some leading soccer figures to articulate and promote non-racism and international brotherhood through soccer. What’s been most disturbing is that it’s been perpetuated by credible, multiaward-winning analysts like SuperSports’ Thomas Mlambo and special guest Ruud Gullit.

Perhaps the fact that this Afcon is taking place in Nelson Mandela’s country demands that we raise the level of political discourse on the beautiful game.

South Africa not only has bent backwards financially to host this soccer festival but it offers an opportunity for us to live up to the values, principles and ideals enshrined in our world-renowned Constitution. We need to remind ourselves that this is a constitutional, non-racial democracy where origin, race, skin colour or ethnic identity has no place. After all, this country belongs to all who live in it.

It is for this reason that a crude discourse about alleged racism — however subtle or nuanced — and nationalism in soccer should be confronted with courage and honesty. In fact we have to fight all forms of discrimination that makes anyone feel unwelcome.

The failure of influential soccer leaders, if you like, to deal with the twin problems of ethnic essentialism and false nationalism was manifest in the line of questioning that Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi was subjected to after his Super Eagles beat Mali.

A lot of time was wasted on racialising the outcome of the match. It was a good thing Keshi insisted he is “not against any white man” much as he acknowledges that he — as an African — would rarely get a coaching job in Europe.

Prior to Keshi’s press conference, SuperSport anchor Mlambo and his guest Gullit spent much time trying to bring in a racial perspective into what was obviously a clean game.

Gullit expressed chauvinist views about the coach having to not only represent but understand the local style, thinking, dreaming, behaviour and culture of the soccer team before he can get them to do the right thing. This is, obviously, voodoo logic.

Also, Sunday Times rugby writer and Kaya FM sports presenter Simnikiwe Xabanisa made remarks on Bob Mabena’s show about the need for teams that have been knocked out of the tournament to quickly pack up and go back where they come from.

We don’t need this, especially in the Afcon. This is the same nonsense that was spouted by Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, for instance, during the 2010 World Cup.

He was one of the many voices reported as saying superpowers should be coached by their own nationals.

“For the big developed countries, the manager should be from that particular country.”

“Why should Brazil, for instance, go get a foreign coach,” Wenger has said.

These sorts of remarks must not be left unchallenged. In fact they fuel false, nationalistic sentiments.

Few have had the courage to say publicly that this way of thinking is racist and xenophobic.

It makes it easy to say that Bafana coach Gordon Igesund is not the right person for the job because he is not black and thus cannot understand the style of his team that largely comes from a township background.

The struggle for an all-embracing African identity, non-racism and anti-nationalist sentiments was one of the most significant principles and ideals that underpinned South Africa’s struggle for a just and equal society.

A deeper understanding of this moral stance should compel figures that are acquainted with the history of the South African struggle to challenge views that undermine the spirit of this country.

Former Bafana Bafana coach Carlos Parreira did not come from this country but the soccer fraternity felt the Brazilian was the most qualified candidate, regardless of his language, race or nationality to lead the South African team to the World Cup.

The most important criterion is that he holds a distinguished record as a soccer coach. He left Brazil to develop, train and influence the playing style and nous of a team outside his continent. Of course his performance not only boosted the confidence of young stars, often riddled with self-doubt and an inferiority complex, but ignited the hopes of a nation.

Of course there will always be individuals who blame the ”foreign, white coach” when their team is not living up to expectations.

But as Keshi hinted, he is “not against any white man”.

We have to accept that Ghana or Cape Verde were not guaranteed victory simply because they were coached by their own nationals. We should learn from France that was able to field a dominantly black team in the 2010 World Cup. Where does that put so-called French nationalism?

How did these sentiments that border on racism find expression on a powerful media platform like SuperSport?

The claim to national authenticity is false. In a global world the fact that you are black does not automatically qualify you to be part of an African team.

The fact that the Nigerian coach is black does not mean he won the game against Mali because of his phenotype, if you like. The issue of nationalism or identity has become much more complex in the 21st century.

And the idea of African teams being led by an African coach is outdated and primitive. It is Africa’s own problem if soccer fraternities reserve coaching jobs for white Europeans.

This Afcon, which has been delivered at a great cost to all the people of this country, cannot get lost in a vulgar form of racial reasoning that promotes division and discrimination.

It should not matter where you come from, as long as you use the beautiful game to make the world more beautiful.

Tags: , , ,

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  • 22 Responses to “Dear SuperSport, Afcon doesn’t stand for xenophobia”

    1. Maradona #

      Thank you Mr Memela – these are wise words and a great blog.

      February 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm
    2. Mr. Direct #

      I am glad to read something on thought leader where “white” is not seen in the negative.

      To put some perspective on Arsene Wenger’s comments, the players of the national team must qualify, in terms of nationality, to play for their country. Why would the coaching staff be employed on a different set of rules? It is not to say that the teams would be better, more that what is good for the goose, is good for the gander.

      But in saying this, I have no real preference on whether National teams should have home grown coaches or not, since has been something we have all grown up with.

      I guess the art of a successful coach is to ensure that the team plays to it’s strengths and potential, and to pick the right tactics on the day. African coaches need to grow or maintain their reputations to land European jobs. I guess it is only a matter of time.

      February 8, 2013 at 5:45 pm
    3. -Sterling Ferguson #

      @Sadile, the US just had their American football super bowl game last Sunday and the government didn’t give them one penny. The game was very successful and made a lot of money for the NFL club that’s the richest sport club in the world. The NFL teams in the US are all multi-racial and the coaches staffs are all multi-racial. If this game isn’t profitable to the sport club the government shouldn’t be using tax payers money to pay the clubs.

      Speaking of the Nigerian talking about white coaches coming from Europe, he didn’t say that he was against white coaches coming to Africa. He says he was against white third rated coaches coming to Africa and there were better African coaches in Africa. The problem with Soccer is this game is boring and the actions are very slow for TV viewers.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:38 pm
    4. LittleBobPete #

      @ Sterling
      I am no great pretender in the field of soccer, but, this is just the view of one coach. Maybe the reality is, the real reason third rate “white” coaches get the jobs is because they are actually better than the black coaches. Maybe these black coaches think they are better than they really are. The other factor may be that these European based coaches understand the complexities of truly international tournaments a little better, having more experience in the field than many black coaches who may have very limited international experience.
      I think the real disappointment has been the fact that the comment was made and how quickly and how vigorously the commentators climbed onto the band wagon when they should have know much better. In some respects, Thomas Mlambo is probably no better than Darren Scott, but at least Scott had the sense to apologise. Scott also did his “crime” in private and NOT on National TV

      February 9, 2013 at 3:47 pm
    5. LittleBobPete #

      @Sterling again.

      No, the US Government probably didnt give the Superbowl a single dollar. But the Superbowl is not country vs country. The SA Government also gives nothing for the Super 15 Final. BUT, the US Government certainly gave huge sums for the Soccer World Cup when it was held there…..lets at least compare apples with apples…..

      February 9, 2013 at 3:51 pm
    6. bernpm #

      @Sandile: “This Afcon, which has been delivered at a great cost to all the people of this country, cannot get lost in a vulgar form of racial reasoning that promotes division and discrimination.”

      All sport and most other issues in SA are getting lost in “a vulgar form of racial reasoning that promotes division and discrimination”. It is accepted government policy, expressed in some legislation and confirmed in certain practices. Many of your articles suffer from the same.

      @Sterling: “The problem with Soccer is this game is boring and the actions are very slow for TV viewers.”

      The old Bafana team, filled with overrated, corpulent and lazy players was indeed not worth watching. You cannot rate their kind of performances as “top soccer”. Igesund brought in some speed, hunger for succes and skills.

      The problem you have with soccer on TV, I have with cricket and Golf

      February 9, 2013 at 4:54 pm
    7. Gambu #

      Whilst Xenophia and any other forms of racism must be condemned but, I am not entirely in agreement with the logic of this article. The truth is, Africa isnt developing as quickly as it should because those who influence and drive livers of power have not had the courage to optimally explore local resource and harness local competencies for the benefit of local development. Whilst I acknowledge that a foreigner can add value to Africa’s development, be it in sport or otherwise, we should always ask, is he/she bringing that which we ourselves can not deliver. If the answer is no then why bring him or her in.

      African coaches are not genereously being showered with coaching positions in Europe – why? If they dont get opportunities there and we also do not make a concerted effort to prefer them locally, how then do we hope to improve our own football? The Gordon Igusand example I think is very weak. GI has been successful over a long period of time with black township players, because he took it upon himselve to understand what makes them tick-hence he is more successful than some black coaches. SA has employed many football coaches from abroad – some of whom have realy taken us back. We could have used the opportunity to delveop our own people not because we are xenophobic but because we are conscious of our developmental needs.

      February 9, 2013 at 6:23 pm
    8. -Sterling Ferguson #

      @Gambu, in the US football, the coaches are trained under the head coaches for a few years before getting a head coach job. The same is true for basketball coaches in the US, most of them are trained under a head coach before being appointed to a coach.

      February 9, 2013 at 11:55 pm
    9. -Sterling Ferguson #

      @The US government didn’t give money for soccer teams in the world cup. The Congress led by the right-wingers would have fit if money was given to the soccer clubs. In the US sports is a business and make a lot of money for the owners.

      February 10, 2013 at 12:15 am
    10. Lwazi #

      Mr. Memela, if you were listening properly- which you were not, you will have heard Thomas and Ruud saying they have nothing against foreign coaches. Ruud said he troubled by the fact that in Europe, you find European coaches, but in Africa you again find European coaches. Does that mean we do not have suitably qualified coaches right here in Africa? Of course not, but it has to do with mental slavery which we still experience as Africans- this inferiority complex that makes us believe that foreign coaches are better.

      They also noted that the success rate of foreign and local coaches is the same. So doesn’t that mean we should also give African coaches more of a chance to prove themselves before we run to Europe?

      February 10, 2013 at 9:14 am
    11. Sthe #

      Well said Lwazi, Sandile continues to sound like a government apologist trying hard to appeas the pale people. It will help you to research as much as I thought you do on topics Mr. Memela. It will be better if you noted that some of the white coaches that we recircle are not giving us any magic with their tactics. Coaches like Claude Le Rouy who led DRC this time has been to more countries than the pages of his passport, with less success. But because he’s such a character he continue to lead our African countries. Why can’t he go to Europe if he is so clued up about the game?

      Let’s congratulate the seven countries that took their natives to the game. Nigeria,Morroco, Ghana, S.A.,Ethopia, Cape Verde&Tunisia send their own coaches to the games. We wish Steven Kheshi all the best as he face the crook in the name of Paul Put who in 2005 was banned in his home country of Belgium for his match-fixing scandal. If he wins tonight it will give him a celebrated exit than the shame that he carries with his controversial past.

      The call for more local coaches is not racist but a realization that locals can do better. If you care much Mr Memela please check the World Cup winning coaches. More local coaches have won the Cup in their countries more than those led by foreign coaches.

      February 10, 2013 at 3:54 pm
    12. Sandile Memela
      Sandile memela #

      @ Lwazi if europe discriminates against african coaches on basis of racism and myopic nationalism, africa should not follow suit where we end up imitating European wrongs.
      As for Africans not getting the break, it is because of decision makers in africa and the fact that perhaps they do not measure up, whatever that means.
      In a fair world, Merit is the best criterion to determine who gets the job.

      February 10, 2013 at 4:09 pm
    13. -Sterling Ferguson #

      @Lwazi, very good comment because the Nigerian didn’t say he was against white coaches coming to Africa.

      February 10, 2013 at 4:31 pm
    14. Skumbuzo Mbhele #

      @Sterling Ferguson

      Sorry Bra……but the US Government DID give money etc to build stadiums and arrange the event……National Teams get cash from the US Government
      And if you follow sport, you will realise that the US Government DO sponsor teams when it suits their need. US Postal sponsored Lance Drugstrong, who else was their a federal investigation. Because government money was used. Know thy facts!!!

      February 11, 2013 at 9:31 am
    15. nkuba adam #

      with all due respest Mr memela ,merit in sport need time and exposure to be perfected,how then do you think one can develop merit in Africa ? if african coaches are not afforded the chance to lead african teams.
      Ruud,himself is a foreigner but he decried the appointment of foreign coaches .Brazilians are said to be masters of the game,in my lifetime ,i am yet to hear of a foreigner coaching Brazil.Keshi also stated that some foreign coaches in Africa never coached football in Europe . if this is true then.we must stop reading.fanon, biko,nkurumah and sobukwe.

      the argument of supersport was questioning the wisdom of decision makers in the african football administration not expressing hatred at foreign coaches.

      if merit has been the criterion in the selection of coaches ,i challenge memela to relate this theory to the realities with Bafana Bafana .DID DOZENS OF FOREIGN COACHES IMPROVE OUR NATIONAL TEAM?

      February 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm
    16. Ndofaya #

      “The white guys are coming to Africa just for the money. They are not doing anything that we cannot do. I am not racist but that’s just the way it is. I am never against a white coach in Africa, because I’ve always worked with white coaches. If you want to bring in a classic, an experienced coach from Europe, I am ready to learn from that coach, because he’s better than me, he has more knowledge than me. Meanwhile, we have quality African players, or ex-African players, who can do the same thing, but they’re not given the opportunity because they’re just black dudes. I don’t like it.” – Stephen Keshi

      February 11, 2013 at 4:08 pm
    17. Ndofaya #

      “The white guys are coming to Africa just for the money. They are not doing anything that we cannot do. I am not racist but that’s just the way it is. I am never against a white coach in Africa, because I’ve always worked with white coaches. If you want to bring in a classic, an experienced coach from Europe, I am ready to learn from that coach, because he’s better than me, he has more knowledge than me. Meanwhile, we have quality African players, or ex-African players, who can do the same thing, but they’re not given the opportunity because they’re just black dudes. I don’t like it.” – Stephen Keshi

      After François Zahoui had gone so close to winning Afcon2012 with Ivory Coast last year, it’s hard to see the logic of the Ivorian federation appointing the inexperienced Sabri Lamouchi. Similarly, what did Didier Six, whose only experience in coaching was a brief stint with Strasbourg 27 years ago, bring to Togo?

      February 11, 2013 at 4:13 pm
    18. -Sterling Ferguson #

      @Skumbuzo, sports in the US is a big business and the players nor do the owners want the government involve. The players get a lot of money to play for their teams and many Africans are coming to the US to play. The players in the Africa cup got hardly nothing in comparison to what a professional players get in the US. Speaking of the stadiums in the US, the US government doesn’t put up the money for these stadiums, the local government sometimes builds them. However, the teams will lease them for X amount of dollars a year. The local government can do this because they get taxed on every ticket sold for those games and most of these games are sold out three years in advance.

      The amateur sports in the US are supported by donations and players don’t get paid.
      Speaking of the government investigating Armstrong, the government is investigating all professional players for abusing drugs.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm
    19. Sipho #

      Me thinks national teams should be coached by the fellow nationals, the colour of a national is irrelevant. I’m yet to hear of any country that won the world cup being coached by a foreigner … it could be a pure coincidence that it has never happened in the history of the soccer world cup. There are areas of life in every nation that should not be outsourced to foreigners despite the level of expertise at home. Private institutions indeed should be free to hire irrespective of nationality whoever they think will give them an advantage in the market space.

      A national team is a public institution, just like the presidency, parliament, provincial governments, etc. Why is it unthinkable to headhunt a country’s president, parliamentarians, councillours?

      February 12, 2013 at 2:45 pm
    20. The Critical Cynic #

      BernPM is spot on Sandile
      you state “How did these sentiments that border on racism find expression on a powerful media platform like SuperSport?
      and later…
      This Afcon, which has been delivered at a great cost to all the people of this country, cannot get lost in a vulgar form of racial reasoning that promotes division and discrimination

      yet that is exactly what this article holds the potential for. If these really were just sentiments that border on racism (which it now appears they weren’t) then why make such a big deal out of it when there are lots of actual blatant racial statements you could latch onto and tear into? If you are looking for issues and the racial angle all the time you’re likely to find it somehow.

      I’m not sure I can see this article fitting into your statement that
      “It should not matter where you come from, as long as you use the beautiful game to make the world more beautiful.”

      February 12, 2013 at 4:18 pm
    21. LittleBobPete #

      @sterling. The government may be investigating al sports, but taking PED is NOT a criminal offence if you’re doing it with private sponsorship. When you use government money, as in US Postal Service sponsored cash, then it becomes a different ball game. But, if you committ perjury during an investigation as Marion Jones did, then that becomes the criminal offence. She went to jail for perjury, not taking PED’S.

      And the US Government, whether national or regional pledged funds to ensure the FIFA World Cup was properly run.

      That the AFCON football players earn peanuts compared to sportsmen in the US is due to the economic value of the event / sport. The average football player in the US is not as well played as you think, especially when compared to Basketball, American Football, Baseball and Ice `hockey…..

      February 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm
    22. -Sterling Ferguson #

      @LittleBobPete, very interesting comment, however, in the US sports have become a business and everything is about money. At the Super Bowl game last Sunday the companies were paying millions a second for spots on the air. The home that these players owned would make Zuma’s home look like a shack in the US.

      February 13, 2013 at 7:40 pm

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