The Branding and Unbranding of Olympic Football

By | July 30th, 2012 | 2 Comments



Guest Post by Chris Bolsmann (c.h.bolsmann [at] aston [dot] ac [dot] uk)

After the disappointment of Banyana Banyana’s loss to Sweden (read my post here), I looked forward to the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games and the parade of athletes in particular. The three hour spectacle turned out to be full of contradictions. Danny Boyle provided a fascinating, although selective, history of Britain. He paid homage to the Suffragettes, the National Health Service and immigrants from the West Indies among others, although no reference was made to either slavery or colonialism. I particularly enjoyed his musical selection which included The Jam, Sex Pistols, and The Specials. Watching excited athletes entering the Olympic Stadium can be fun and I was heartened to see Caster Semenya carrying the South African flag.

The lack of visible corporate sponsorship in the stadium and at all Olympic venues is really pleasing to a sports fan’s eye. What a stark contrast to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where FIFA’s corporate sponsors were visible everywhere. I have yet to come across the Olympics “brand police,” unlike in South Africa where fans wearing Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs replica shirts emblazoned with the Vodacom sponsor were told to cover them up because MTN — a rival telecom firm — was a national FIFA corporate partner.

Despite the International Olympic Committee’s apparent subtlety, one just has to turn over any Olympic Ticket and the IOC’s “Worldwide Olympic Partners” are clearly visible. The usual suspects appear: unhealthy soft drinks, measly hamburgers and the like, but also a multinational chemical company. Athletes seem unhappy with the restrictions placed on them under the IOC’s Rule 40 protecting official sponsors from “ambush marketing.” Given that athletes can even be disqualified for promoting their individual sponsors, South African swimmer Cameron van der Burgh, Africa’s first gold medal winner, must be cautious since he endorses a range of corporate sponsors on his twitter account which are not “Worldwide Olympic Partners.”

So despite the veneer of a corporate-free Olympic Games, the sponsors and their logos are everywhere. Fizzy soft drinks are even sold as “healthy food” alternatives inside Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena, which has been temporarily renamed the “City of Coventry Stadium” for the Games because the Japanese electronic giant is not an official partner of the IOC. Even the toilets are not safe from the IOC’s attempt at cleansing all traces of rival sponsors. The toilet cisterns and hand dryers have their manufacturer’s names covered up!

I got to watch a double header in this sanitised stadium yesterday as Mexico beat Gabon and South Korea defeated Switzerland. At £20 for a ticket, this represented genuine value for money. Match tickets are cheaper than what Coventry City FC charge in the 3rd tier of English football. The 32,000 seater arena was almost full with 28,000 spectators filling the stands. The empty seats, unfortunately, were the best seats available, those on the half way line behind both substitutes’ benches. According to the IOC, these were seats reserved for their “Worldwide Olympic Partners.” A shame. Besides the fans of the teams on the pitch, there were many families with young children, helped by cheaper youth ticket prices and the Sunday afternoon kickoff time.

As much as I wanted Gabon to silence the Mexican fans’ homophobic chants during opposing goalkeepers’ goal kicks, El Tri were undeniably stronger than their West African counterparts. In an evenly contested first half, Mexico had a couple of good opportunities, but Didier Ovono in the Gabonese goal was equal to the task. The introduction of Giovani dos Santos in the second half gave the Mexicans more creative options up front and he latched onto a long ball in the 62nd minute to put Mexico in front. Giovani sealed the game in the 90th minute after Gabon conceded a late penalty.

Football at the Olympics is different from the World Cup. The kits are different as the German manufacturer is not permitted to advertise their stripes. Football federation logos are replaced by national Olympic associations And for the men, 15 of the 18 members of the team are under 23 years of age. But one just has to look to the corner flags where FIFA has printed its logo and up to the official flags where the IOC’s flag hangs next to that of FIFA. In the end, the corporate interests of the IOC and FIFA merge.

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Banyana Banyana Lose with Dignity to Sweden at 2012 Olympics

By | July 26th, 2012 | 5 Comments


Guest Post by Chris Bolsmann (c.h.bolsmann [at] aston [dot] ac [dot] uk)

COVENTRY–In a week when South African cricketers and golfers recorded convincing victories, a hat trick of results would have seen South Africa’s women’s national team celebrate their first appearance at the Olympic Games by beating Sweden. But facing a team ranked 4th in the world, Banyana Banyana (Zulu for “the ladies”) could not pull off the miracle win.

The South Africans met their Swedish counterparts in Coventry, 100 miles north of London, in the second match of a double header. Japan beat Canada 2-1 in the early game in front of 18,000 spectators, while the 2011 World Cup third-place finishers defeated South Africa 4-1.

Normally called the Ricoh Arena and home to Coventry City FC, the City of Coventry Stadium looked quite different from its normal appearance full of advertising hoardings. The Olympic organisers were not quite able to cover up all of Coventry City’s history though, as a photo of the 1987 FA Cup winning team adorned one of the stadium walls.

While Banyana Banyana have always worn the yellow and green colours of the South African Football Association, this time the squad entered the pitch in a horrible-looking green and white vertically striped kit, courtesy of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s official kit supplier: Erke, from China. The crowd had dwindled to a few thousand for the second match and the majority of photo press had left the stadium. A small contingent of South African fans remained who were vocal throughout but were outnumbered by Swedish fans and locals who supported their European neighbours.

Sweden kicked off and, ominously, twice hit the cross bar in the opening six minutes. The Scandinavians went ahead in the 7th minute thanks to a Nilla Fischer shot from outside the box that was cruelly deflected past United States-based Roxanne Barker in the South African goal. Then the Swedes again hit the cross bar and doubled their lead in the 20th minute when Lisa Dahlkvist poked home a ball from the flanks. A minute later Sweden scored a third goal when South African stalwart Janine van Wyk was beaten for pace on a through ball and Lotta Schelin slotted past the on rushing South African keeper. After 21 minutes Banyana’s debut had turned into a nightmare and a real humiliation was on the cards.

The South African midfield were constantly over run by the more forceful and creative Swedes and the defence were outpaced on numerous occasions, allowing for the Swedes to cross balls into the box at leisure. To her credit, Barker dealt well with crosses and high balls and remained calm under constant Swedish pressure.

The second half saw Banyana kick off with far more purpose and creative intent. In the 60th minute, Portia Modise, a former World Player of the Year nominee, dispossessed a Swedish midfielder well within the South African half and from inside the centre circle unleashed a wonderful strike to beat Hedvig Lindahl. Modise’s goal restored South African spirits and momentarily gave South African supporters some hope. But three minutes later Schelin got her second goal of the match and restored the three-goal margin.

The final quarter of the game saw South Africa struggle with fitness and the match ended with a resounding victory for the Swedes. Sweden had over 57% possession and outshot South Africa 21 to 7. Banyana Banyana were outclassed by a technically superior and fitter Swedish side. After the shock of allowing three goals within 25 minutes, Banyana settled and showed a few individual moments of skill but were unable to retain possession for any length of time. It won’t get any easier in this tournament for South Africa: they face Canada on Saturday and World Champions Japan the following week.

8 Things I learned from the John Terry decision

By | July 13th, 2012 | 6 Comments



On Friday, Howard Riddle, Senior District Judge in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, found Chelsea captain John Terry not guilty of racially abusing Queen’s Park Rangers Anton Ferdinand. Here are eight things I learned by reading Judge Riddle’s decision:


1. “There is no doubt that John Terry uttered the words ‘fucking black cunt’ at Anton Ferdinand” (p.13).

2. TV footage unequivocally demonstrates that “Terry directed the words ‘black cunt’ in the direction of Anton Ferdinand” (p.3).

3. In a statement to the English FA Terry 5 days after the incident, remembered saying to Ferdinand “I think it was something along the lines of, ‘You black cunt, you’re a fucking knobhead’” (p.10).

4. Lip reading experts are amazing people who do important work, but this doesn’t mean much in the big picture.

5. Terry said what he said in the heat of the game and was angry, physically and mentally tired (pp.13-14). Seriously.

6. Give money to a charity in Africa: it’s a great alibi (as Elliot Ross explains here).

7. That nobody on the pitch claims to have heard Terry calling Ferdinand a “fucking black cunt” at the time and that “there are limitations to lip reading” [p. 14]) was used to obfuscate the undisputed factual evidence of the video footage.

8. The “not guilty” verdict reflects tortuously twisted logic. The decision seems to hinge on the possibility that Terry hurled the insult at Ferdinand only after the latter had “accused Mr Terry on the pitch of calling him a black cunt” (p. 14). “It is therefore possible,” Judge Riddle concludes, “that what he said was not intended as an insult, but rather as a challenge to what he believed had been said to him” (p. 15). So let me see if I understand this legal reasoning correctly: it is not racially abusive speech to call a black person a “fucking black cunt” if it’s in response to an accusation of calling you a fucking black cunt. Huh?

As @NutmegRadio eloquently tweeted: “The John Terry verdict now stands as a how-to-guide for how to escape a racially aggravated public order offense in the UK.”

Gordon Igesund named Bafana Bafana coach

By | July 3rd, 2012 | 12 Comments


It’s official: Gordon Igesund is the new Bafana Bafana coach. The well-travelled Durbanite was the outright favourite for the job, and his appointment is the climax of what has been a remarkable coaching career.

Igesund’s first coaching job was in 1985 as a player-coach for Witbank Aces. For the next 11 years, he mainly coached modest teams battling to avoid relegation, sometimes unsuccessfully. In 1992 he won the NSL Second Division title with D’Alberton Callies, but his rise to prominence began in 1996-97 when he guided Durban’s Manning Rangers to the inaugural PSL title. More league honors followed at Orlando Pirates (2001-02), Santos (2001-02), and Sundowns (2006-07), which made Igesund the only coach to annex the championship with four different PSL clubs.

His appointment as the national team coach on a two-year contract comes on the back of an impressive stint at the helm of Moroka Swallows. The fabled Soweto team sent Igesund an SOS eighteen months ago when they found themselves at the bottom of the table nearly halfway through the season. Igesund masterminded The Dube Birds’ great escape, and this season they had an astonishing year, finishing an agonising second to Orlando Pirates.

It is Igesund’s heroics at Moroka Swallows that SAFA expect him to emulate with beleaguered Bafana Bafana, currently ranked 68th in FIFA’s world rankings. South Africa’s qualification bid for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is in serious jeopardy after draws against Ethiopia and Botswana. While South Africa’s hosting of the next edition of the African Nations Cup guarantees Bafana Bafana’s participation, there is well-founded anxiety in the country over the threat of an uninspiring showing in the tournament.

“The bigger picture is the 2013 AFCON and qualifying us for Brazil 2014,”declared SAFA President, Kirsten Nematandani, at Igesund’s unveiling. It’s the same brief former Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane was given two years ago. As SAFA made abundantly clear to Igesund, should the national team fail to reach the semi-finals of the African Nations Cup next year, then he will join Mosimane on the growing list of former Bafana coaches, which now stands at eighteen.

Igesund’s pedigree gives many South Africans hope that, despite recent results, he is indeed the manager who can lead Bafana to the continental crown and to the World Cup in Brazil. He is a wily old fox who has paid his dues in the trenches. He knows how to nurture self-belief and instil a desire to win into any team under his tutelage, regardless of available talent and financial resources. We wish him good luck in his new position.

There is a problem, however, that Igesund cannot solve even if he ends up meeting his new employers’ lofty objectives. That is, SAFA’s understanding of the “bigger picture” in domestic football is confined to four-year cycles for the men’s senior national team (or in this case a two-year cycle). But local football needs sound management, serious youth development for boys and girls, better coaches’ training, and infrastructural improvements at the grassroots. In other words, the goals SAFA has set for Igesund are no more than an attempt at a quick-fix solution.

SAFA would have done better to concede their administrative shortcomings, apologize for the dismal state of football in the country, and state that Igesund is the best bet for turning hapless Bafana Bafana into a winning team. Instead, SAFA hired the country’s most decorated coach and required him to take one of the least feared teams in Africa to the semi-finals of the continent’s premier tournament and then to the World Cup. While there is no question of Igesund’s success as a club coach, it would not be surprising if, after the 2013 African Nations Cup, he were to become the 19th Bafana coach in 20 years.

Spain: The Greatest Team Ever?

By | July 2nd, 2012 | 5 Comments

Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and now Euro 2012 champions. Spain’s 4-0 demolition of Italy in yesterday’s final in Kiev secured their third consecutive major tournament victory in the last four years. The question many are asking today is whether La Roja is the greatest team in the history of football.

Hundreds of millions of TV viewers watching the final in pubs, homes, and public venues around the world witnessed Spain’s best performance of the Euros. Propelled by Xavi’s sudden resurgence and Del Bosque’s flawless tactics, lineup, and game management, the Spanish tiki-taka approached a near-perfect synthesis of art and science. Meanwhile Italy’s tired legs and coach Prandelli’s naive decision to deploy 2 strikers, no defensive midfielders, and field injured Chiellini, De Rossi and even Motta (as a final substitute!) exposed the substantial qualitative gap separating the two finalists.


While my emotional wounds from enduring such a hideous hiding are still raw, I’m interested in what people have to say about how Spain 2008-12 compares, say, with Brazil 1970? Germany 1972-74? Or even Uruguay 1924-1930 and Hungary 1950-54 if we delve into a radically different media era? Should we consider club teams too? Real Madrid 1955-60, Ajax 1971-73, Milan 1989-90, and Barcelona 2009-2011 immediately come to mind.


Here are my top 5:

1. Uruguay 1924-30 (winners of 1924 & 1928 Olympics and 1930 World Cup)

2. Spain 2008-2012

3. Brazil 1970 (good case for the best ever, but won only one title)

4. Hungary 1950-54 (undefeated, 42 wins and 7 draws).

5. Barcelona 2009-11 (FIFA Club World Cup: 2009, 2011; Champions League: 2008–09, 2010–11; UEFA Super Cup: 2009, 2011; La Liga: 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11; Copa del Rey: 2008–09, 2011–12; Supercopa de España: 2009, 2010, 2011)

What do you think? Share your rankings in the comment section!

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