The Herald (Harare)

9 November 2012

Zimbabwe/South Africa: Don't Rock PSL Boat

opinion

IRVIN KHOZA was yesterday re-elected, unopposed, for a fifth term in office but the lessons of boardroom stability, which have driven Super Diski into the richest Premiership in Africa, appear to have been lost here in Zimbabwe. In the week that the Orlando Pirates' strongman secured his fifth straight term at the helm of Super Diski, discontent has been simmering in the domestic Premiership.

Twine Phiri, who took over as PSL chairman when the league's boat was sailing in stormy waters with just one sponsor to provide a flicker of light in the darkness, has seen his leadership being challenged, in recent days, by some of the clubs under his belt.

The deal that brought SuperSport into a four-year alliance with the domestic Premiership, the fallout from the wrangle torched by the clash between BancABC and Delta in the countdown to the Battle of Zimbabwe showdown between Dynamos and Highlanders and the confusion over the fixtures for the Mbada Diamonds Cup semi-finals, have all been bunched onto a charge sheet for Phiri and his management team.

That there has been considerable tension, between the league's board and its secretariat, something even detected by Mbada Diamonds in their official protest over the way the semi-final fixtures were handled, has been all too evident.

But no institution is perfect and, as the Super Diski clubs were giving Khoza the authority to stay in charge for a fifth term yesterday, shock revelations that the South African Football Association ran losses of about R56 million in their last financial year, emerged.

Khoza is, by virtue of his position as the chairman of the South African PSL, the vice-chairman of Safa.

While Super Diski has been a commercial success story, under the stewardship of Khoza, Safa have turned into a sick joke and Bafana Bafana's failure to qualify for the 2012 Nations Cup finals eroded the association's bargaining power, in their negotiations with major sponsors ABSA and SA Breweries, and the deals that were eventually sealed were significantly smaller in value.

But Khoza is being judged by what he has done brilliantly at Super Diski, where he has direct control and even pockets a certain percentage for a sponsorship package he brings on board, not by what he has failed to do, in the mayhem of Safa, where he has very little control in a largely ceremonial role.

Admittedly, Phiri hasn't done as well as Khoza but, again, only a madman will make a direct comparison between a man who inherited a league that was on its knees, with just one sponsor of a knockout tournament that featured half its clubs, and one who is in charge of a top-flight league in Africa's richest economy.

When Phiri took over in 2010, only BancABC were standing in the PSL corner and Motor Action, who emerged as the champions at the end of the season, did not even receive a cent for their landmark achievement.

There was no sponsor for the championship and the mockery of it all was that the team that played three games, to win the BancABC Sup8r Cup that year, Dynamos, took home US$40 000 while the Mighty Bulls received nothing for winning the gruelling 30-game marathon.

Phiri and his board made the breakthrough when they convinced Delta, through their Castle Lager brand, to come back into the trenches as the flagship sponsor of the Premier Soccer League.

There are massive benefits that are reaped, from the goodwill of just partnering a successful blue-chip company like Delta, and soon the other sponsors began to follow suit because, if the management team of a brand as established as Castle could trust their instincts to get into bed with the PSL, then there was need to give the league the benefit of doubt.

Mbada Diamonds came on board and, for the first time in the history of Zimbabwean football, the club competing in the Caf Confederation Cup was given a financial package, to bankroll its commitments, by a sponsor.

BancABC spread its wings and finalised sponsorship packages for individual clubs and also chipped in to foot, to some extent, Dynamos' participation in the Champions League this year.

After years of a fruitless search to secure a partnership with SuperSport, a deal was signed this year for a marriage that starts, in earnest, next season.

That Phiri and his board have been successful, to the extent of even surpassing expectations, isn't even in question on a domestic football landscape where administrative success stories are as rare as our appearances at major tournaments like the Nations Cup finals.

Against that background, it's confusing that the PSL should be rocking its boat at a time when they should be consolidating the impressive gains they have enjoyed in the past two years.

Yesterday Phiri declined to comment, at length, about the turbulence that their plane had flown into.

"I feel at this stage we should concentrate on giving the fans and the sponsors a real value for their support by ensuring that the exciting league championship comes to a conclusion without any problems and we close the season in grand style with an unforgettable Mbada Diamonds Cup final," said the PSL chairman.

"There will be challenges football all the time and how we respond to them will shape our destiny."

The domestic Premiership has undergone a complete transformation in the past two-and-half years and the capacity crowd at the Dynamos/Highlanders' league match at Rufaro recently provided the confirmation that interest in the top-flight league, within the key sector of the supporters, has been boosted once again.

The Mbada Diamonds Cup semi-final showdown between CAPS United and Dynamos at Barbourfields on Sunday is set to be another sellout game while huge crowds are expected in the final two league matches featuring DeMbare and Bosso.

The choice is for the PSL clubs to either take a leaf from their counterparts in South Africa and focus on progress, instead of individuals, by investing on continuity when it comes to their leadership, or to rock the boat once again and return to the dark days of two years ago.

With a no confidence vote in the leadership outlawed, Phiri and his board can only make way on their own terms, if they feel it's time to step down, but one feels, given how well they have played their game in the last two years, the future looks even brighter for the PSL.

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