Don’t Strangle Working Class Football Fans By Cheryl Roberts

13 Jan

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It’s extremely disappointing to see empty seats when South Africa hosts international sports events, especially Test cricket matches and continental football tournaments. Under discussion now is SA’s staging of CHAN 2014, almost four years after South Africa’s hosting of the world’s sports spectacle, the football World Cup Finals, yet South Africa is unable to fill stadiums when we host international football matches and continental championships.

CHAN 2014 is currently being staged in three cities in SA, over a three week tournament, involving 16 African countries. But what is the use of having expensive world cup football stadia and hosting international football tournaments without getting the football fans into the stadium?

Football’s largest fan base is the working class who love, admire, adore and respect the beautiful game. Football is a game belonging to the working class, yet the very same working class communities that provide the layers from grassroots level to international participation, are unable to enjoy CHAN 2014 because they can’t afford the money needed to be at football matches. 

The working class is broke at this time of the year, just after the festive season. How can we expect them to purchase football tickets, cover transports costs and have food money. No food is allowed into the stadium; you must purchase the over-priced and unhealthy food and drinks standing in long queues, inside the stadium.

Cape Town is a host city with support from the Western Cape government’s department of sport, yet officials from these two agencies can’t seem to understand that a successful tournament must have fans on seats, supporting the matches, cheering the players.

Football has the biggest participation rates in sport, with thousands of junior and senior players – women and men, girls and boys – registered in league programmes. If the tickets are not selling, why can’t the clubs and teams who play registered football, together with their parents, be given tickets to fill the stadium. What is the use of hosting a continental championship, that is heavily supported by sponsors and government, if people who love football can’t see the matches live because they don’t have the money.

South Africa’s vast social inequalities always impact negatively the working, who lose out on international sport. Transports costs from working class communities to Cape Town stadium are exhorbitant. The DA-administered city of Cape Town provides a free Myciti bus service from the civic centre to the stadium and from HoutBay to the stadium, yet it can’t assist the working class fans by providing free transport from the townships and the hood where the football supporters are living.

Although the first allocation of cheaper tickets were available during earlier bookings, how can you expect most working class football fans to buy privileges like football tickets when they are still hustling to pay electricity bills and school fees from two months ago.

There are several criticisms around the hosting of CHAN 2014. People who are involved in grassroots, district and provincial football feel rather left out of the sport they help organize and develop during the year, using their own time with no payment. Despite being involved in football, they were not even called upon for their organizational skills and passion for the beautiful.

I’ve spoken to several LFA and club officials and, apparently ticket sales were so low about two days before the tournament’s opening that complimentary/free tickets were hastily made available. But this was too late. LFA’s and club officials had no time to get tickets to players. Apparently national officials had books of tickets, up until kick off on Saturday and weren’t able to get them distributed.

How does CHAN 2014 organising committee, the DA-administered city of Cape Town and the DA-administered Department of Culture and Sport explain this embarrassing situation? What a waste of millions of money to host a tournament, featuring Africa’s emerging talents and future stars, yet football lovers from working class communities are deprived of being in the stadium?  

South Africa’s officials must understand that in our country of vast inequalities, watching international sport is a privilege. We have millions of sports fans but we don’t have all sports fans having disposable money to but sports tickets. We must assist the working class to be able to come into sports events instead of keeping stadia gated and only open to those who can afford international sports tickets.

Don’t strangle working class sports fans. Let’s assist the working class to make our international sports events, especially football, successful!

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