The History of South African Football - Part 1

Memba Ben By Memba Ben, 3rd Jul 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Sports>Football (Soccer)

A series looking at the development of South African football/soccer over the past 156 years, beginning at the 19th century in its early days till the present day.

Early Beginnings

From international expulsion to becoming the first African nation to host the FIFA World Cup, South African football has come a long way.

The Premier Soccer League is one of the top 15 ranked leagues in the world in terms of broadcasting rights, having signed a 1.6 billion rand deal with Supersport (an African sports channel owned by multinational internet and media group Naspers) and according to the CAF 5 Year Rankings, is rated as the 5th best league in Africa. It is viewed across Africa by millions and is known for attracting the best undiscovered talent that Africa has to offer, with many players going on to bigger stages in club football.

Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns are some of the most recognizable names in African football with all three clubs known as the Glamour Clubs of Africa and the national team (Bafana Bafana) has seen the highest of highs (winning the 1996 African Cup of Nations) and the lowest of lows (the whole of 2006 and the 2012 Dance of Shame) but throughout it all, it is still the most supported national team in the country.

But to get to its current form was a long and strenuous journey filled blood, tears and strife. To understand how football in South Africa got to this point, we have to go all the way back to the 19th century when the games official structures mirrored the inequality in South African society.

At the time, Apartheid hadn’t come into effect but due to the psychological effects of colonialism, segregation had already been in place. People of different ethnicities were already given their own land and were largely left to do their own thing and intermingling between different races was taboo which also extended to sports.

There is evidence to suggest that there was an intermediary that allowed teams from different races to play each other (one of the first documented football matches in South Africa happened in 1862 between a group of White Civil Servants and some soldiers) but these matches weren’t frequent and in 1905, the British Empire passed the General Pass Regulations Act (the precursor to the Group Areas Act) which essentially limited non-white people to fixed areas so while people were playing football, it was done so under unfortunate circumstances. Things only got worse in 1910, when the Union of South Africa was created. The Union implemented the South Africa Act which served to empower the white minority by giving them further autonomy and marginalizing other races.

In the midst of all the politics, the South African Football Association (then known as FASA) became the first FA outside of Europe to join FIFA which on face value was a great thing but with the implementation of the South Africa Act, this meant that FASA (along with all governing bodies in the country) were run exclusively by white people and as a result, teams within FASA were given funding and support. As for the oppressed, because the Union preferred a supervisory approach to governance, they (along with FASA) established three other footballing bodies, the South African Indian Football Association (SAIFA), the South African Coloured Football Association (SAICFA) and the South African Bantu Football Association (SABFA). However despite its segregation and prejudice, FASA did get some things right. They brought a somewhat professional structure to the largely amateur local game and introduced the idea of what we would come to know as a national team.

The idea of a touring party wasn’t new as in 1898; the Orange Free State Bantu Football Club became the first South African team to tour abroad. Other teams also went abroad but the difference was that they were representatives of their respective FAs. Once FIFA welcomed South Africa into the fold in 1910, FASA was selected as the major governing body of football in South Africa and by default; the selected squads they sent on tour were recognized as a faux national team.



History, Soccer, South Africa

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author avatar Memba Ben
A fan's view on the business of football.

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