Irvin Khoza is no longer a spring chicken and the proverbial succession plan elephant in the room that football has avoided for so long now has to be tackled, writes MATSHELANE MAMABOLO.
JOHANNESBURG – Football and the taxi industry are the two businesses we, black people, truly own.
I was made aware of this back in 2002 out in Daegu, South Korea.
Made aware is perhaps not the right phrase, for it wasn’t a friendly information dissemination session that opened my eyes to this.
Far from it, for the man ‘schooling’ me was incensed, ready to give me a royal nose bleed with a full on straight right if not rearrange my jaw and send me picking my molars up from the ground.
My crime then was that I was seen as a lackey for the ‘white’ establishment I worked for. And I had not helped my case by having suggested that Gordon Igesund, and not the preferred incumbent Jomo Sono, was the right man to lead us at the Fifa World Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.
Writing an article the Bafana Bafana contingent hoped to keep under wraps seemed to confirm their assertion I was an agent of my anti-black football “white employers”.
Yet when said furious man, having reached a state of some calm by then, explained what he meant about the two industries being the only ones that truly belonged to black folks, I got it.
— Soccer Laduma Local (@SLLocal) December 13, 2021
In a South Africa where the economic power remained (and still does) in the hands of the minority whites despite the advent of a democracy many lost their lives for, the taxi industry and football provided a few of the majority blacks a true opportunity to be their own bosses in business.
A look at the elite league landscape then showed that almost all the clubs belonged to self-made black men who used their families’ resources to run their teams.
Many of them had started their clubs from the boot of their cars as township Prezas (slang for club presidents) and they were at last seeing the fruits of their hard labour courtesy of the significant sponsorships in the Premiership.
And behind that turnaround in fortunes for the local game was the man they call the Iron Duke. Irvin Khoza.
It was his foresight, alongside the likes of Kaizer Motaung and the late Cyril Kobus, that ensured the game was professionalised with the breakaway from the NPSL to the NSL in 1985.
Since then, local football has grown in leaps and bounds to the extent that the professional game is pretty lucrative with multi-billion television rights ensuring clubs receive substantial monthly grants. And the league prize money and that earned from knockout competitions is pretty sizable.
Khoza has been local professional football’s chairman for so long that the uninitiated would be forgiven for thinking his first name is Chairman.
But such is the faith and belief in his abilities that the rest of the club owners in both the premier and first division collectively known as the Board of Governors have never seen the need to be led by anyone else.
Some have suggested it is because they are scared of him. But having spent time in his presence speaking football and getting insights into how dedicated he is to seeing the game improved as well as the influence he wields with corporate South Africa whom he has managed to convince to back the PSL, it is easy to understand why they have entrusted him with the position for so long.
Khoza is a football man through and through having cut his teeth as an administrator in the early eighties by coming to the rescue of an Orlando Pirates ship that was fast sinking into oblivion.
He has been a part of building the game into the financially successful business it now is and has seen many men build their clubs from scratch. He knows and shares their struggles and ambitions, hence they trust him so.
But he is no longer a spring chicken and the proverbial succession plan elephant in the room that football has avoided for so long now has to be tackled.
It was reported last week that for the first time in aeons, Khoza faces a challenge for his position as professional football’s el supremo. That is if he decides to stand again for the chairmanship when his current tenure ends in two years’ time.
It was the names of the possible contenders that got me wondering. John Comitis, Stan Matthews and Robert Bernadie. Three men, all white. Really?
Isn’t football supposed to be ‘our sport? Is it not one of two industries ‘we’ truly own?
Why then haven’t any of the black administrators raised their hands?
Imagine the president of SANTACO being a white man. Impossible, right?
Of course, I know that football is a little different. And these three men – especially the first two – have been a part of the PSL executive committee for a long time. They know the intricacies of running the game and will probably do a good job of it.
But aren’t they going to ‘take our sport away’?
For a while, there have been murmurings about the so-called Stellenbosch Mafia desiring to get their tentacles into football. The formation of Stellenbosch FC and its meteoric rise to the elite league was given as proof of this.
Now, there is the possibility of a white Capetonian occupying the professional game’s highest position. Will it be for the better of football? I don’t know. I certainly hope so, although I can bet you that my ‘good friend’ from Daegu would be seriously aggrieved.
Damn, he will probably find a way to pin all this impending change of football ownership on yours truly and my ‘white employers’.
The reality though is that the blame should – if the PSL chairmanship going to a white man means blacks losing one of only two businesses we truly own – go to the likes of Khoza for not properly preparing young black men to succeed them.
Given that local club ownership is generally family-oriented, one would have expected that the Prezas teach their children the way to run the game and administer the league.
Sure, many of them have their children involved in the game. But when one looks around, there are not really any who have seriously raised their hands as suitable to step into the Iron Duke’s shoes.
Even among the current executives, there aren’t many black ones who inspire the confidence they can take charge of the league and keep it running as well as it is.
A Comitis or a Matthews, on the other hand, has been there and done that and could probably do a good job as Chairman.
It just won’t seem right, would it? I know my friend from Daegu would scream daylight robbery were that to happen.
After all, this is one of only two businesses ‘we’ truly own isn’t it?