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SA SOCCER NEWS
Are businessmen good for the game? 19/08/04
Fans columnist Unathi Mntonintshi looks at a growing phenomenoen in South African soccer - the increasing number of black busisnessmen who are investing in the game.

In the last two years a total of four black businessmen have entered football industry at different levels. From Sisa Bhikitsha with Zulu Royals, Patrice Motsepe with Sundowns, Tokyo Sexwale with the Mvela League and now recently with Mzi Khumalo buying a controlling stake in Golden Arrows.

There were reports that Saki Macozoma was interested in a controlling stake at Bush Bucks but they remained rumours. However, there are questions about whether this involvement of black business is good for football or not.

Trevor Phillips clearly does not think that Sisa Bhikitsha and his Zulu Royals crew have added anything to the league with their sour grapes over relegation. Interestingly Bhikitsha is also the least popular of the black businessmen. There is also no serious evidence of millions being pumped by Bhikitsha into Zulu Royals ever since taking over the club and changing the name from Amazulu to Zulu Royals.

On the other side Patrice Motsepe has drawn serious comparison with the English club Chelseas Roman Abramovich. Both have poured serious funding in their respective clubs with high ambitions of success both on and off the field.

Sundowns have managed to secure the services of the some of the best players in Southern Africa. However, it remains to be seen whether Paul Dolezar has the inter-personal skills to deal with star players. The signs are good though after Sundowns clinched their first title of the season in the Telkom Charity Cup. Some of the Sundowns least ardent supporters are also convinced that the club is back to its winning ways.

The involvement of Tokyo Sexwale has been at another level through sponsoring the National First Division. However, there are serious debates about whether which league would be more beneficial to professional soccer between the National First Division and a strong reserve league. What cant be debated though is that the millions pumped in by Sexwale will make the first division stronger and more professionally run.

Mzi Khumalo is arguably the more seasoned businessmen of all the four men. Khumalo has managed to build a business empire worth hundreds of millions of rands for himself. Perhaps his decision to invest in a team in KwaZulu-Natal was influenced by the need for geographical spread and realisation that some of the best African talent from this country comes from that province.

With Golden Arrows, the province would be able to keep the talent in the province and stop the migration of players to Gauteng and the Western Cape.

One of the major contributions that these gentlemen should be able to do is bring in necessary business skills that seem to have eluded football for a long period. Issues of corporate governance should be introduced to the game if the game is to prosper as Tokyo Sexwale alluded.

These clubs should have a clear understanding of the football industry and have strategies that seek to maximise value. Other clubs dont seem to understand in what industry they are operating in and who their customers are. These clubs led by these astute businessmen should be able to articulate their strategic positions in the market.

The involvement of these gentlemen in football should also assist to dispel the belief that football is not for the rich. In other countries in Europe and South America, football is not an indication of ones social status.

As people improve their wealth, they dont outgrow the game. They continue to be involved in the game as customers or administrators or club owners. Kings and Queens, Presidents, Prime ministers and other social giants continue to support the game.

It is not totally unheard of for members of the Italian Parliament to have a discussion on the game of football in Parliament. Football is unlikely to have an exponential growth trajectory if the affluent are not attracted to the game.

One of the biggest contributions these gentlemen are likely to make is to increase competition between the different clubs. In a few years about six or seven clubs will be capable of winning the league championship. This will ensure that clubs such as Orlando Pirates do not become complacent and take their supporters for granted.

As the competitive forces become stronger, the product offered by the clubs should be better. As these businessmen continue to invest money into football so will the pressure from players to perform and become more professional about their trade.

Their involvement should not only spread the balance of power in the field of play, they should also exert their influence in the boardroom. The PSL Board of Governors will have two astute businessmen who will hold their own within the board. The PSL Board of Governors should slowly become a forum of serious intriguing debate that should primarily seek to improve the game in this country.

However, there are those who believe that the Motsepes and Khumalos are just investing money in football to increase their profiles within the society. This school of thought suggests that these men would rather gain something from their earnings instead of just paying the receiver of revenue.

In investing football they will be linked with the most popular sport in the country and a sport that is supported by most poor people. Those subscribing to this view further assert these men are not really interested in the well-being of the game.

An example is made about Mzi Khumalo appointing someone else to be the Chairman of Golden Arrows. They further doubt whether it is necessary for people like Motsepe to take on the likes of Kaizer Motaung, Irvin khoza and Jomo Sono who have been in the game longer.

Time will tell but clearly their involvement has aroused a lot of interest in the game. Whether they will meet the expectations of many football supporters around the country can only be determined later. For now we enjoy their interest and involvement in the game.

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