Why has Cape Town hosted Bafana Bafana just four times in 19 years?
by The Editor
FEATURE: Did you know Cape Town has hosted Bafana Bafana just four times in 19 years? That is a fairly remarkable fact. The city is hardly the sporting backwaters. In fact, almost every argument you can come up with against Cape Town hosting the national soccer team does not, on the evidence, appear to hold any weight. To see who has hosted the most games and why Cape Town deserves to see the national team more often, read on.
Why has Cape Town hosted Bafana Bafana just four times in 19 years?
Bafana Bafana have played 116 official matches at home since 1994. Of them, it has played just four in Cape Town. In fact, out of all nine provinces, only the Northern Cape has hosted the national team fewer times than the Western Cape (just once). It’s a curious anomaly. Cape Town boasts large, world-class stadia, it has a big population, its sports events are fanatically attended and its infrastructure, both in terms of tourism and hospitality, is up there with the best; so why does the South African Football Association (SAFA) continue to keep the national football team away from Cape Town?
Here is a table breaking down all Bafana Bafana’s home matches from 1994 to date, by province:
All bow before Gauteng
Gauteng hosts the bulk of South Africa’s matches, with a majority of 51% being played in that province (59 times it has hosted the national team). Then follows, in order: the North West (13 times at 11%); KwaZulu-Natal (13 times at 11%); the Free State (10 times at 9%); the Eastern Cape (eight times at 7%) and only then does the Western Cape feature, along with Mpumalanga and Limpopo (four times each at 3%) – an average of one match every five years.
One response to that fact, although a response based on little more than unfounded bias, might be that Cape Town would struggle to fill a stadium; but, as I suggest, on the evidence that holds no weight.
A history of fanatical support
The last South African international Cape Town hosted was in November 2010, when Bafana Bafana lost 0-1 to the United States. The match was held at Cape Town Stadium and was sold out, all 50 000 available tickets. Before that, at Newlands in 2007 – and even though Bafana Bafana lost 1-3 to Zambia – the match was likewise a sell out. You have to go back to 2003 to find the next time South Africa played an international match in the Western Cape, against Jamaica at Athlone Stadium. Again, the match was sold out. Athlone seats just 30 000 but it certainly demonstrates an appetite for the game, so much so the then-ANC-led administration in the City put out a statement championing the turn out.
Before the United States game Cape Town Mayoral committee member for tourism, events and marketing Grant Pascoe accused SAFA of ignoring Cape Town as a venue for the national team, saying: “Bafana Bafana is a national team and not a regional team. We would really like to see a fair spread of games,” before asking “Why are they depriving these soccer-loving people of a game?”
There were rumours Cape Town Stadium would host the South Africa versus Guatemala international friendly on 31 May 2012, but SAFA quickly quashed them, confirming instead the game would be played at the Peter Mokaba Stadium, the fourth time it would host Bafana Bafana in eight years.
Newlands: the forgotten soccer stadium
Cape Town Stadium is, of course, new. So there is an argument to be made it cannot be counted historically (although Green Point Stadium did exist before it). Not that this explains away the fact it hasn’t hosted a Bafana Bafana game since the United States (the Moses Mabhida Stadium has already hosted South Africa twice). Regardless, it has the second biggest capacity of all current major South African stadiums, at some 64 000, second only to Soccer City, with around 95 000.
Which leaves Newlands, the third natural Cape Town option. Newlands also boasts one of the biggest capacities in the country, some 52 000. Yet it has hosted only two South Africa matches in 19 years. An argument has been made the pitch isn’t suitable but that too does not seem credible given that Ellis Park (11 matches), Kings Park (nine) and Loftus Versfeld (five) – home to the Lions, Sharks and Bulls rugby teams respectively – have also hosted numerous games over the years.
Alternatively, as we sift through all the possible objections, if the argument is that Bafana Bafana games need to be spread around in the national interest, apart from being self defeating – the Western Cape gets far less than its fair share, given its size – even that doesn’t bear up to scrutiny. Unless one means spread round Gauteng – at least 8 different stadia have hosted the national team in that province. They include Germiston Stadium (three matches, capacity just 18 000), Lucas Moripe Stadium (seven matches, capacity 29 000) and Johannesburg Athletics Stadium (three matches, capacity 37 500). All of them are minor stadiums, compared to say Cape Town Stadium or Newlands, yet they have all hosted three or more games.
Here is a list of all major stadiums used for South Africa’s international football games and the number of times they have hosted the national team:
Some of the country’s most obscure stadia have hosted Bafana Bafana but an entire province seems to have been largely ignored.
Just in terms of sheer numbers, the Cape Town Metro population dwarfs many of the other metros. Its 2.9 million residents are roughly triple the number in Nelson Mandela Bay (1 million, seven games) and four times as big as Mangaung (650 000, ten games). By the time you get to places like Polokwane and Mafikeng the comparisons become silly. If it’s taking football to the people SAFA is interested in (or even profit), well, there are a lot of them in Cape Town.
So, what’s the reason? I’m not sure, but perhaps it’s time SAFA offered one up. Four games in 19 years certainly seems unreasonable for a major South African and international sporting capital; if not, just unfair.
Not much for Capetonians to look forward to
SAFA recently announced the host cities for AFCON 2013. Guess what? No Cape Town. The games will be hosted in Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium), Rustenburg (Royal Bafokeng Stadium), eThekwini (Moses Mabhida Stadium) and Mbombela (Mbombela Stadium). SAFA argued that Cape Town didn’t meet the grading criteria (hard to imagine since it was good enough to host a World Cup semi-final). One of Cape Town’s concerns when bidding was that SAFA expected a host city to subsidise each match it held and yet it would not say exactly at what cost, figures it still has not made available. So, either those four venues were blindly willing to agree to an undisclosed figure or they know something Cape Town does not.
As it so happens, the national team’s performance isn’t helping matters. Attendance at recent games has been low anyway. The Star reported that attendance at its 0-0 draw with Ethiopia, at Royal Bafokeng, was “appalling”; and, in South Africa’s last game, a 3-0 victory over Gabon, the turnout was so bad Mbombela Stadium senior official Ronny Moyo suggested it might even compromise the stadium’s AFCON status, before pleading: “My words of encouragement at this stage would be for our fans to fill Mbombela Stadium when the AFCON games kick off next year. We must also bear in mind that our failure to support games in our backyard will have a negative impact on us in the elite football deals we are currently trying to secure.”
So we are down to begging.
Well, if it is full house SAFA is after, history suggests Cape Town is a good place to start looking. As I have written before, Capetonians love their sport more than most. Of course, the fact the SAFA is willing to play Bafana Bafana at venues that are woefully empty anyway suggests that shouldn’t even be a concern.
But one gets the sense this isn’t about support or equal opportunities, something else is afoot. Time for SAFA to put their cards on the table I say. Why is Cape Town being ignored?
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