Soccer Development in South Africa: Same Old Story

By Peter Alegi | July 21st, 2014 5 Comments

Radio talk show host, author, and political analyst Eusebius Mckaiser spoke with Robin Petersen, CEO of the South African Football Association’s development agency, about what is going wrong and what needs to be done about the future of Bafana Bafana—the South African men’s national team.

Peterson has an unusual background for a South African football administrator. He owns a construction company and holds a PhD in Religion and Ethics from the University of Chicago Divinity School. Since 2001, Peterson has held important positions, including as CEO of SAFA and the domestic Premier Soccer League. In his new role at the helm of SAFA’s Development Agency, Peterson’s job is to ensure that the football development plan known as SAFA Vision 2022 is implemented.

In conversation with Eusebius and his listeners, Petersen touches in general terms on a 7-point plan that includes a national football philosophy; youth teams and academies; coach education; football infrastructure; and sports science. The complete absence of a sense of history in his remarks underscores a serious problem within South African football: an unwillingness to deal honestly and productively with what has already been said, tried, and failed in the two decades since the end of apartheid and the birth of democracy. (For two different, but complementary, critiques of South African football development, click here and here).

Despite Petersen’s best intentions and SAFA’s more sophisticated packaging, it seems that, once again, the latest development plan amounts to little more than a public relations campaign.


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Chris Bolsmann

July 22nd, 2014 | 7:53 am    

Robin Petersen first mentions Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs after 43 minutes of this 44 minute long interview. I think many of the problems in South African football lie at the feet of these two dominant clubs and Mamelodi Sundowns to some extent and in particular their owners Kaizer Motaung and Irwin Khoza. Both clubs dominate the PSL, football development and SAFA more generally. They are self-serving organisations that have no interest in real football development (why should they anyway, as long as Soccer City is filled a few times a year when they play against each other they are happy as their coffers are swollen). To his credit Petersen does mention football in schools. His plan however does not seem to address how football is going to be played in schools. This remains the most serious issue in South African football. Of course the Springboks and Proteas are right at the top of their respective sports because their sports are played in schools across the country. SAFA’s priority should be to fund, facilitate and roll out football across the thousands of schools in South Africa that have no sporting facilities. By funding fewer larger projects to ‘develop’ talent, all you do is allow for Pirates, Chiefs and Sundowns to buy up emerging talent. If football is played in schools across the country local clubs benefit and this improves the standard of play across the board. Ultimately, Petersen’s development plans may amount to very little for as long as the big three PSL clubs dominate South African football and in turn SAFA and school football is not made a number one priority for his organization.


July 22nd, 2014 | 8:09 am    

Thanks for your excellent points, Chris. KC and OP duopoly (no disrespect to Sundowns) is a long-running issue affecting many different aspects of the way the game is played, experienced, and run in the country. I also agree that school football is crucial to youth development. One question: knowing SAFA’s ineptitude and poor track record, should it be even advisable to have them involved at all beyond funding programs?

Chris Bolsmann

July 22nd, 2014 | 8:16 am    

Probably not! The Education Department and schools themselves need to run school football and report back to SAFA. They are after all the custodians of the game. This means for me they are the umbrella organisation that oversees the game in the country letting local organsiations and communities run the game.


July 23rd, 2014 | 7:55 am    

Good intentions indeed: and most of us would want SAFA to succeed. The intentions are likely to remain simply that and more of a “public relations campaign” as you rightly point out.


July 23rd, 2014 | 8:02 am    

For me the saddest thing about the state of South African football is that John Perlman as an individual has probably done more for grassroots football than both SAFA and PSL combined. The inherent problem in South African football is that there are certain individuals who want to get the credit for everything that is good with football-including inventing the game itself.
It might sound far-fetched but my brother and I are of the view that Patrice Motsepe might be the cure to local football’s ills. He is ANC royalty, far from poor, ambitious, savvy, and not intimidated by the big men of local football. Initially, he tried to out-money his “opponents” but of late he is starting to adopt more of a savior role.
Motsepe is also ambitious-what better platform can he use than football to propel him into the presidency? He knows what currency can be accrued from earning the “title” of being the messiah of local football. Being the calculating person that he is, it would be folly to assume that he is doing all that he is doing merely “ for the love of the game”.

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