An Open Letter by ‘Ace’ Ncobo to SAFA
Posted: 2 September 2014 Time: 21:12
Former FIFA referee and PSL General Manager Andile ‘Ace’ Ncobo writes a heartfelt plea to the powers-that-be at SAFA questioning the reasoning behind their decision to challenge the launch of Multichoice’s Diski Challenge.
Dear Mr SAFA, my father ...
I read with astonishment your heavy-handed downscaling of the Diski Challenge, a partnership between Multichoice and your Special Member, the National Soccer League.
I have, to date, not seen any reports or press statement from you contradicting the media reports alleging the aforementioned interference by you.
In fact, your spokesperson confirmed the reports suggesting that you effectively declared the project as a violation of your Constitution and that the League had acted outside its mandate. On this basis it is therefore safe to assume that the allegations of interference are indeed true.
The source of my dismay is perhaps my lack of understanding of how such a noble endevour can be said to be in violation of the SAFA Constitution. Please feel free to educate me on that should I be missing something.
I am further confused by your contention that the League acted outside its mandate. From what I have been able to gather - and you are at liberty to correct me - it seems as if you took umbrage with the terms "development" and "Under 19", and wrote a strongly-worded letter to the League, reading it the riot act and throwing the proverbial book at it. Really?!
The project was launched as a development for U19 players with opportunities for the training of broadcast interns and, one would presume, young aspirant referees would be presented with a perfect opportunity to officiate for professionals and gain much-needed experience even before they reach the national panel.
I know that you jealously guard any and everything in football pertaining to "development" and "juniors", ostensibly because you believe that all matters developmental and youthful are your sole prerogative and no other body, however well intentioned, even one affiliated to you, should step into that hallowed land.
It is generally accepted, correctly so, that you are in charge of grassroots development and the national teams, with the League taking care of professional football. This separation of rights, powers and obligations - thus defining areas of jurisdiction - is provided for in your Constitution and that of the League.
I am not so sure that you do have the moral ground to lay claim to the sanctity of your territory in youth development. It is understandable when a marque like Mercedes Benz jealousy guards against any other manufacturer attempting to clone its products because they make really great cars.
However, your track record in the development of the game, be it at grassroots level, or even the establishment of national team performance standards and playing philosophy, is not one to gloat about, far from it by any standards.
In fact, since the halcyon era of the 1996 AFCON triumph on home-soil and qualification for France '98, we have seen our national teams enter a period of downward slide so endemic that they have seized to be regarded as competitors of any consequence.
Both the CAF and FIFA rankings of our national teams bear testimony to this very alarming state of decline, as does our failure to qualify for major competitions, notwithstanding the recent Banyana and Amajita exploits.
If there were no Statutes protecting your "territorial hegemony" and any claim to glory was solely based on an impeccable development track record, would you have dared to challenge any other interested and well-meaning party to keep off this “hallowed turf” of yours?
You and I could well have a protracted debate on this issue, but then I would be digressing since this is not the primary purpose of my letter to you. All I want to establish is whether or not you believe you are correct in claiming constitutional protection against the League on this matter. I think you are wrong and facts weigh heavily in my favour.
I have read your Constitution. I have read what you refer to as the NSL Handbook, the League's Constitution and Rules. I have read the CAF and FIFA Constitutions, Rules and Regulations. What I want to say to you is based mainly on those documents.
Do not bother to reach out for your Constitution and that of the League. Instead, please allow me the latitude and pleasure of rewriting all the relevant Articles for you hereunder, verbatim!
May I take this opportunity to remind you that the League Constitution, Rules and Regulations were approved by you and it should therefore be safe to assume that you are happy with every single provision contained therein.
You wrote in your own Constitution, in Article 10.3.2 that, "...the rights, powers and obligations of the NSL shall be as set out in this Constitution (yours) and in the NSL Handbook ("the Constitution & Rules) or any amendment thereof approved by SAFA."
From this it is clear that whatever is contained in that Handbook has been ratified by you; such ratification supposedly based on acceptance of all articles contained therein.
You call the League your "Special Member". You granted it the authority to autonomously conduct its business guided by its own "Handbook" - as you call it - but still subordinate and answerable to you. You authorised its "Handbook".
Contained therein is Article 4.2 which states that: "The League is the only professional football body recognised by SAFA."
The fact that the clause exists means that you ratified and accepted it. It also goes without saying therefore that you agree with the objectives of the League, inclusive of 6.1 and 6.2, respectively stating, "to promote, organise, control and administer professional football" and "to coordinate and facilitate the development of professional football."
Please do not tell me that your belief is that to "organise" precludes the establishment and running of a league in which professional players contracted by the League's clubs can partake.
Please do not fool me into believing that "development of professional football" excludes development of professional footballers. I am not that much of a child to believe that "development" only refers to training and coaching and excludes organised participation in competitive matches.
If that were so, clubs' youth teams would not be allowed to play against one another unless sanctioned by you. They do play against one another and they have every right to do so. Is the crime now their intention to have a coordinated approach to those matches rather than keeping them as non-effectual friendlies?
Did you see the word "development" in 6.2? Of course you knew that it was there and you still ratified the NSL Constitution, even though it gave the league carte-blanche on issues “developmental”, what you regard as your very own "holy grail".
Why would you then take the League to task when it does exactly what is obligated of it by its ratified Constitution, the development of professional football? Oh! Maybe it's because they committed the cardinal sin of using the sacrosanct denotation "U" next to a figure depicting age, as in "U19"?
You berated them for even mentioning a maximum age because you allege that anything to do with youth development is your sole mandate and falls under your tightly controlled jurisdiction. I beg to point out, dear father, how wrong your purview is on this matter.
In my opinion, you are wrong because there is nothing in your Statutes, or those of CAF and FIFA, which places any kind of age-limit - upwards or downwards - for clubs to register players and to contract them as professionals.
Let me draw your attention to that FIFA Statute referred to as Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, drawn up in response to Article 5 of the FIFA Constitution.
Article 2 of those regulations defines "a player". Sub-section 2.1 says that a player who plays organised football can either be amateur or professional. 2.2 goes on to define a professional player thus: "A professional is a player who has a written contract with a club and is paid more for his footballing activity than the expenses he effectively incurs. All other players are considered amateurs."
That is the exact essence of my perspective regarding your decision. If you read the definition of a professional even cursorily, it is clear that whether or not a player can be designated as a professional is based solely on financial accounting, besides the prerequisite of a written contract.
If a club remunerates a player who has a written contract with the club for partaking in footballing activity an amount which exceeds the player's expenses in availing himself for such activity, then that player is declared by FIFA Regulations as a professional player.
If, for instance, a player spends a total of R300 per month on traveling, food and other incidentals in order for him to be available for footballing activity at a particular club and the club then pays him R301 per month - an amount which exceeds his expenses - then that player is by definition and status a professional.
Another point I would like you to ponder is your ill-informed desire to cling to the notion that anything that carries the prefix "Under-" falls solely under your jurisdiction.
Theoretically, even a 1-year-old player can be a professional. If the 1-year old is paid an amount which exceeds expenses incurred, that remuneration instantly transforms his status from amateur to professional.
In simple terms, this means that all players who fit the definition of professional fall under the aegis of the League and their development is the sole prerogative of the League as stated in Article 6.2 of the NSL Constitution as ratified by you.
Your argument that you hold "hegemony" over anything carrying the tag "Under-" is therefore not supported by any statute, and I challenge you to produce proof to the contrary.
Let us go back to Article 4.2 of the NSL Constitution: "The League is the only professional body recognised by SAFA." By granting the League this status, you left yourself with only the national teams and amateur football falling under your direct operational control. All matters relating to professional football, be they matters of development, fall under the jurisdiction of the League.
Can you explain to me, and hopefully to all football lovers across the nation as well, what basis your otherwise spurious accusations against the league of an attempt to usurp your powers and encroachment on your jurisdiction stem from?
I ask this because none of the statutes you might have otherwise believed to support your case offer any such. To the contrary, evidence based on the provisions of the very same statutes that you seek to misinterpret for the convenience of your ill-conceived contretemps with the league clearly exonerates the latter from any wrongdoing, but rather reaffirms the league’s prerogative as the only professional body mandated by Article 6.2 to "co-ordinate and facilitate the development of professional football."
As the governing body, your duty here should have been restricted to ensuring that the league does not overstep the provisions of that enabling article and to that end your stated position should have been: "I applaud and approve this endevour, but do make sure that each player who plays there is a professional as defined in Article 2.2 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status of Players so that your project does not encroach on our amateur territory."
That would have made all the sense in the world, but instead you have chosen a stance and course of action that puts a programme that our football is in dire need of in jeopardy, for no better reasons than personal aggrandisement and cheap politicking, albeit at a very expensive cost to our country’s footballing future.
It would have demonstrated the level of respect you accord the very Constitution which grants the League the status of Special Member in charge of professional football to allow them the space to coordinate and develop professional football. You would have defined the parameters correctly, based on statutes rather than on a whimsical claim to jurisdiction.
There is an amusing irony in how you have chosen to handle this matter. You are in charge of amateur football and all your leagues should be amateur leagues. By extension, all players registered in your leagues should be amateur players so that you do not infringe on the constitutional right of the League to run professional football.
Now, you know as well as I do - and as everyone knows - that all clubs in your ABC Motsepe League operate just like professional clubs and many of those in the Regional League do the same. I say they operate like professional clubs because they pay players.
Essentially there is nothing wrong with paying a player, but amateur players are only supposed to be reimbursed an amount exactly equal to the "expenses they effectively incur" as provided for in the FIFA Regulations.
This protects the players as well since any payment exceeding their expenses changes their amateur status and they and their clubs stand to lose a lot of privileges attached to that status on account of that.
Your clubs exceed those expenses incurred by far - not that the size of the excess matters - effectively changing the status of their players to professionals, thereby effectively changing the status of your so-called amateur leagues into professional entities.
Did you not grant the authority to run professional football to the NSL? Doesn't your failure to eradicate the payment of excess amounts to amateurs effectively encroach on the League's hegemony as the sole custodian of all professional footballing activities in this country? Are you not guilty of violating not only your own constitution, but FIFA Statutes as well? Have you considered cleaning up the family home first before shouting about dirt in your child's house across the road?
Has the NSL ever taken you to task for running professional leagues in contravention of your own Constitution? Have the clubs ever refused to pay a training compensation - the mandatory fee that is paid when a professional club contracts an amateur for the first time as espoused in Article 20 of the Regulations referred to above - on the correct basis that the players are already professional by virtue of the payments they receive in line with the provisions of Article 2.2, and therefore there exists no obligation to pay any training compensation over and above the usual purchase price and signing-on fees from which solidarity contributions are drawn as described in Article 21 of the Regulations?
I am not involved with the NSL in any capacity and I do not know why the League has never taken you to task about this, but I can hazard a guess. I think their reason could possibly be that it views giving incentives to players as being a good thing because they, as professional clubs, receive products that are ready to compete at the highest level further down the value chain.
This stance by the league surely cannot be simply attributed to respect and reverence to the clause in your Constitution in Article 17.1 which states: "The league and all members shall be subordinate to and recognised by SAFA."
It has to be the case that the league is more interested in promoting and protecting the practice of that which is good for football in this country. Is it beyond your “enlightened” thinking to adopt the same approach in exercising your oversight role?
Do you perhaps interpret the League's waiver of its rights to challenge you on this matter as constituting tacit approval and acceptance of the practice as falling within the ambit of the constitution?
If so, then you have lured yourself into a false sense of comfort as one day some clubs will refuse to pay the training compensation and point to the fact that the players have already enjoyed professional status and therefore the obligation to pay has fallen away. It will be interesting to see how you handle that.
If you are encroaching on the jurisdiction of the League as the sole licensee to run professional football, how do you then have the temerity to reign in their noble and clearly well thought-out attempts at "developing youth" even if, in your own jaundiced opinion, they did not have the constitutional mandate to do so?
If it was due to your lack of awareness of their constitutional right in this regard, now you do in no uncertain terms, which then makes your interference all the more abhorrent as it becomes an autocratic, morally reprehensible act and a blatant disregard of the league’s rights together with a gross violation of your own constitution.
Your actions and conduct in this matter are way beyond the pale and it has to be told unequivocally. Both our professional and amateur football clubs are investing substantially in youth development in this country. However, professional clubs have for the longest period of time been the primary drivers of youth development programs through their soon-to-be-mandatory youth development structures.
With the paucity of SAFA’s own youth development programmes, coupled with your inability to develop and implement a coherent strategy in that regard, it really boggles the mind that you should be taking such a draconian stance against an initiative that can only benefit you as an organisation and South African football as a whole.
To put things in perspective, I’d like to emphasise the importance of compliance with stated rules by reiterating that as long as all the players participating in the Diski Challenge fulfill the requirements of being defined as professional players, you have no business interfering with what the League is trying to do. It is their constitutional prerogative to establish and operate such a competition.
Furthermore, you know very well that you are under pressure from CAF and FIFA to implement the Club Licensing Programme. Under that programme there are certain non-negotiable deliverables that clubs must fulfill in order for you to grant them their annual licence to register with the relevant league.
Part of that development surely has to be the creation of opportunities for them to play competitive football. It cannot just be training and coaching to the exclusion of participating in a competitive league.
If clubs are soon to be compelled to DEVELOP YOUTH, what's wrong with them pre-empting the process by starting now before it becomes compulsory? If you are saying they are overstepping their mandate now, what will you say when you are forced by FIFA to compel clubs to have youth development structures?
I hope that your counter-argument will not be that they must "develop" them, but cannot make them play in any organised league against their age mates? That would really be ludicrous!
I think you are wrong by creating this "damned if I do, damned if I don't" situation, which is exactly what it will be when the time comes for club licencing to be compulsory.
It is my contention that the development of young footballers should never be used as a pawn in the political chess games that we have seen being played out in South African football. The future of the country's football is much more important than personal egos. The nation, not individuals, owns the beautiful sport.
I can bet my last cent that if we were to conduct a referendum today there would be only one result, a resounding YES to the NSL-Multichoice U19 League in its original planned format, not this watered down Reserve League that you insist on.
The news that you have secured sponsorship for U19 and U17 leagues is wonderful news for South African football. From what I was able to gather with regards to that, the leagues will be under you. That's great. But it also tells me that they will be leagues for amateur players and must rightfully be administered by you.
Amateur football is your domain and responsibility. Will your U19 work at cross-purposes with the NSL's U19 League of professionals? Not at all!
There are thousands, probably millions, of U19 players not signed by any professional club. They are not earning any excess income and therefore their status is amateur. The fact that they are amateur does not necessarily translate to them being poor performers than those within club structures.
The fact of the matter is that clubs operate within very tight budgets and obviously cannot contract and pay all players out there. Supply always outstrips demand.
If you want to use only those players contracted to professional clubs in your mooted U19 and U17, then you are effectively meting out double jeopardy to your very own amateurs. They cannot get into the clubs and now you want to shut them out of their own league? How fair is that? Who benefits from such an exclusionist arrangement?
Can you imagine how fast-tracked development can be if you had your amateur U19 league and the NSL runs its own U19 for professional players contracted to its member clubs? Does that not widen opportunities? Is the end product not the creation of the widest pool of players from which your national teams will draw players?
I think you are wrong in preventing the League from running its own U19 league for professional players.
Do the right thing, beloved father. Have you forgotten how far down we have slid on the FIFA rankings? Have you forgotten that the primary reason for that is not only the paucity in the capacity and quality of our youth development programmes - because the professional clubs have been doing that that for you through their own youth structures - it is rather the lack of regular competitive football for them to hone their skills?
Who will be the ultimate beneficiary of a professional U19 League if not the same national team that is your pride and joy? How can you then justify stopping a project that will produce talent to take this country's football forward?
How do you expect this decision to find favour with the spiritual owners of the game, the football-loving masses of our people?
We have all seen your national team coaches carrying clipboards and frantically taking down notes at PSL games. Evidently they scout for players from those who are already playing for their clubs.
Consider this: Club owners are business people. They want returns on their investment. They want to win the league and cup competitions. They may be passionate about the game, but they are still driven by the profit motive just like other entrepreneurs in the corporate world.
In order to achieve their objectives they hire coaches. Any coach who does not deliver is fired. Can you then blame coaches for not promoting any young talent from their own clubs' development structures but rather buy proven professionals? Who in their right mind would gamble his job on some untested youngster?
This creates a solid ceiling for young professionals. They have to be exceptional special gems in order to be seen and given a berth in the senior team. At best, they have to hope for a club with limited resources to buy them and give them exposure. Only then can they be seen by the national coaches. Does that not have the effect of delaying the process of unearthing talent? Why, father, why?
Does it not also drastically reduce the pool of players that the national coaches can assess and select? It does! Are you still wondering why we are ranked much lower than we should, given the massive financial resources we have compared to many of the countries above us on the CAF and FIFA rankings?
On these bases, how do you justify interfering with this project? Is it your objective to perpetuate this heart-breaking failure to make a mark on the world stage? I know for a fact that you are wrong. And I hope you will urgently review your decision to interfere.
I am writing this letter as your son … a loving, respectful and grateful son. I am grateful for all the things you have done for me.
The first time I boarded an airplane, you had made that possible. The first time my name appeared on a newspaper page was thanks to you. The first time my ugly face, perched on a starved body, appeared on television was thanks to none other than you.
The first time I crossed the borders of this country - uhm, legally with a passport, not on foot - you had made that possible. Were it not for you, I would still be an unknown rural boy like many of my peers in the village of Nqadu. And for all that, I am eternally grateful.
But my being grateful cannot be reason enough for me to keep quiet when I think you are wrong. On the contrary, it is because of my love and respect for you and as a long-standing member of your family that I am voicing my concern on this matter and airing my belief that you are making a very critical error of judgment.
Believe me father, there is nothing more gracious than admitting an error, remedying it and allowing history and the football gods to forever judge you favourably. Do the right thing. Do it even if it means "losing face".
Rather lose face for doing the right thing than obstinately forge ahead with a course of action that has a detrimental impact on the very game that you are working hard to rebuild to claim its rightful place at the highest pedestal amongst the top nations in the world.
I claim your fatherhood as one of the youngest persons in this country to establish a football club. I was a mere 14-year-old teenager when I started my own club and vowed to help establish a proper football league in my area instead of adding to the many clubs that played only friendlies and rural tournaments with pigs, goats and sheep as prizes.
I consider myself your child for having been a secretary of a local football association at that tender age of 14. Although you were never there to teach me how to play, how to coach, how to referee and how to be a good administrator, I still learnt on my own. Through trial and error I acquired knowledge.
I forgave you because it was not easy for you to do all those things as a football father operating in an apartheid state.
I knew that you could not do the developmental intervention that a caring football father should do because of various factors which were not of your own making. In appreciation of that hard cold fact, I and many other club owners continued to toil under the heavy burden.
You could not be there when I paid money collected over many moons from meagre pocket-money to have a bulldozer excavating out the boulders from the only piece of land the local chief granted permission for my club to utilize as a football field.
I understood your absence when we used hands, shovels and wheelbarrows to fill up the holes where the boulders had been dug. I accepted your inability to help when I used a borrowed axe to chop down six trees from which four uprights and two crossbars were fashioned to make goalposts. I did not even cry out to you when I needed to buy packets of lime to throw in powder form on the ground to mark the field.
I never lamented your absence for those long hours when I and my boys used hand sickles to cut the grass every other week. I never complained about your lack of assistance when after every rainy season we had to deal with a multitude of mole hills that sprang up on our pitch. I understood and continued to love you. I continue to love you ,but I think you are wrong.
Having started playing football at age 6 on dusty makeshift pitches in the rural areas of the then Transkei homeland, I now lay claim to more than 40 years of unbroken involvement in football.
Apart from my brief sojourn into professional football administration, I have always been, and still regard myself as, part of your family. You gave me a platform to express myself in a way that very few poor kids like me in rural areas will ever get to enjoy.
I repaid you with honesty, loyalty and integrity. I became a worthy ambassador representing the best that your family can be, both nationally and internationally.
I have now completed the Perfect 5 - playing, coaching, refereeing, administration and broadcasting - and I know of no other person in the whole world who has had the pleasure of serving the game in all 5 spheres. Thank you for making that possible.
But, all of that said, I cannot keep quiet and pretend to be happy when I am not. I know you mean well and you want to protect the constitutional integrity of the family, but that cannot be done through a flagrant disregard of the provisions of the same constitution that you purport to honour and uphold.
I do understand that you need to reassert the position of the family as the supreme custodian of football in the country, but that cannot be achieved with regressive, myopic decisions.
I accept the need to always remind the League that it is "surbodinate to SAFA" as espoused in your Constitution, but that should never be done at the expense of progress.
You have gone through a very trying period which led to sponsors withdrawing their financial support and those remaining drastically scaling down their contributions. You changed your leadership and there are signs that things can get better.
Sponsors are beginning to believe in the value of supporting football and are willing to invest commensurate financial value for the mileage they can reap from their partnership with the sport.
It will certainly be foolhardy for you to act in a manner that suggests you’d rather cock-a-snook at a company that is by far the biggest investor this country’s football has ever had for reasons that defy every fathomable percept of logic.
Even though Multichoice is not one of your own direct sponsors, the billions they pay to your Special Member, the professional league, gives a fillip to the development of the game’s standard at the professional level, meaning that the national teams also benefit from such elevated levels of performances by eligible players.
This implies that, as SAFA, you derive a direct benefit from this indirect financial support, a compelling reason for you to be a supportive stakeholder in the value-laden relationship that Multichoice enjoys with your most valued affiliate.
That relationship makes your League, yes YOUR League father, look really good - the best on the continent and Top 10 in the world. That should make you a proud father.
When a child of the family makes strides is it not the entire family that gleans glory? Doesn't a major portion of that glory accrue to the father who gave birth to that child? Why should a proud father feel the need to compete with his own son yet all due credit goes to the family as a whole? I think you are wrong father.
Father, I am begging you on behalf of all the young professionals who had hopes of finally getting long-awaited exposure. With your insistence that the league should merely be a reserve league for out-of-form and injured players of whatever age robs them of this glorious opportunity to showcase their talent against professionals of the same age from other clubs.
I beg you to reconsider your decision because it is constitutionally wrong. I beg you to allow the league as originally planned because it is simply good for the country.
I do not carry anyone's brief. In the past I have spoken my mind about things that I felt the NSL was not doing right. I was neither doing that at your behest nor on your behalf. Hence, I am not in the least worried that I may be accused of speaking for and on behalf of the NSL.
In fact, seeing how the League meekly capitulated at your onslaught, I suspect that it might not be happy as well with me writing this letter and push this into the public discourse when they had already resigned themselves to the fate you have forced upon them.
Finally, please forgive me for making this letter public. I know that you raised me under a doctrine that family dirty linen should not be hung in public, but I am a child of this family and I have seen how the carpet at our home has grown heavier and heavier. I was scared that it might somehow cover my plea and prevent it from reaching your ears.
If, by writing this letter and availing it to the public with the sole objective being to stimulate debate on the matter you feel I have disrespected you, I am sorry. I'd rather present myself for your admonishing than to keep quiet when I feel the need to talk.
Your loving son
Ace Ncobo (writing in his personal capacity)