Just a few weeks ago when news of the Cape Town City FC and Free State Stars FC transaction broke, the proverbial can of worms fell open. One of the issues expressed was that of ownership, and how clubs shouldn’t be owned by individuals because transactions such as these serve to undermine the supporters. For me that was a quite a hilarious discussion. Because while people are preoccupied with our own delusions of grandeur, South Africa is poised for bigger assaults from other sources that no one seems to want to engage about.
To create the context, let me sketch a historical background to my postulate.
In May 2010 UEFA, European football’s governing body approved the ‘financial fair-play plan’ which required clubs to break even by 2012. This plan was constructed with the intention of stabilizing the financial position of European clubs; a disturbing number of whom were reporting loses year on year.
Furthermore, UEFA also supported caps on player earnings and transfer spending, both as a proportion of club turnover. They also proposed the prohibition of teams from contesting honors by means of the clubs debt. As if that’s not enough, they implemented limitation on international procurement of a player under the age of 18 years as this was described as being akin to “child trafficking.”
Not wanting to fall foul of the EUFA rulings and eminent structural changes the financial fair-play rules, most European Football Associations have sort to introduce rules that will help them sustain their teams going forward.
For an example, the English FA’s has introduced rules that says a child between the ages of 8-11 has to live within 60 minutes’ travelling time of the training ground; 12-16-year- olds within 90 minutes. This means that the catmint area of most clubs is now reduced considerably. Therefore, the fairy tale story of finding a gifted player in some rural part of Argentina, with a town’s name that nobody can pronounce, at the tender age of 11 and bringing him over to Europe for development, is soon to fall by the way side. We are all aware of recent bans for Barcelona FC and Real Madrid over transfer regulation violations for under aged players.
In fact, if a club is to remain competitive and profitable within the context of such a rule, the Ajax Amsterdam – Ajax Cape Town model is going to start becoming more and more viable. In other words, it stands to reason that European clubs will start looking at the establishment of development academies in other parts of the world. And they will probably want to do that in exchange for ownership. South Africa is particularly well placed for this because of the available infrastructure, which presents an even more viable opportunity for these acquisitions. That way a player can get the early childhood development he needs in the academy based in his home country, only to move over the European clubs when he turns 18 or older, ala Thulani Serero. In so doing, clubs will tend to accesses talent at a fraction of the cost and risk, all the while maintaining the profitability and working within the regulations.
For example, recently Spanish giants Atletico Madrid and Chippa United agreed to a twinning deal which is said to be taking the development of soccer to another level in Nelson Mandela Bay. The partnership will see the establishment of a sporting arena and an academy in Port Elizabeth. The finer details of the deal will be agreed on in Spain next month. An excited Chippa United boss Chippa Mpengesi said “the partnership would be similar to that of Ajax Cape Town and Ajax Amsterdam.”
Now my real issue is this.
While I am a great supporter of family businesses in club football, perhaps that is a topic for another piece. But I am also quietly concerned about families and individuals dis-investing 51% of their ownership to manage their own risk exposure.
The question is, what do these transactions mean for South African football? What should the Ministry of Sports, football governing bodies, unions and supporters be doing to protect our ownership of this lighthouse industry? Because to me it seem illogical for us to be talking economic freedom on the one side of our mouths, while systematic facilitating the disowning of our own industry on the other side of our mouths. It is a concept which sounds good at face value, but has a pong of post-millennial colonisation at the very least.
Quite sadly I am not hearing the discourse on this issue. All we are worried about is the T- Shirts that we have bought, and what we are going to do with them now that the club has moved cities.
The tempest prognosticator
Themba A Dikgale