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Sport Development
March 2014

Developing team sport

and sales

Soccer, rugby and netball are the biggest participation sports in South Africa — and therefore generate good retail sales. What are the sport federations doing to keep the grass roots numbers high and create new customers? YAMKELA MKEBE reports.

At grassroots level, soccer, netball and rugby are the most popular participation sports in South Africa. Of these, by far most active South Africans play soccer, while netball tops the charts for women.

In a survey conducted for Sport and Recreation SA (SRSA) in 2005 titled Participation Patterns in Sport and Recreation Activities in South Africa, 11% of the respondents said that they played soccer — compared to the 3% who play netball, 2% who play rugby and 1% or less, who participate in cricket and all other sports In addition, 29% of the non-participants said they wanted to play soccer — 17% only socially.

In comparison, 9% non-participants said they wanted to play netball (5% socially) and 5% rugby (3% socially). The kit, balls and footwear sold for these sports constitute an important part of a sport retailer’s stock. Retailers therefore have a vested interest to know that new players are constantly being recruited, that the necessary facilities and training are in place, and that they are kept interested in participating through sufficient leagues and competitions.

In other words, that enough is being done to grow these sports at grassroots level.

Soccer development plans

In the trying times experienced by South African soccer on international level, plans to improve the standard of the game from grassroots level, have been tabled. The South African Football Association (SAFA) announced their development plans to strengthen soccer after a three-day SAFA lekgotla in February.

This comes not long after new SAFA president Danny Jordaan said that “big changes are underway at SAFA, not just at the national team level, but at grassroots. If we want to build a winning team for the future, we have to have efficient structures in place right from school level.”

These remarks were made in January, just after Bafana Bafana was knocked out in the early stages of the African Nations Championship (Chan). Jordaan promised a new name, new technical staff and a new technical sponsor for the national team.

In the beginning of last year, after SAFA failed to act against officials identified by FIFA in a pre-2010 match fixing scandal, Puma and ABSA withdrew as sponsors, but Nike stepped in as sponsor at the beginning of this year. Shortly after he was elected to head a revamped SAFA board at the end of last year, Jordaan spelled out a development plan for the next ten years.

One of the objectives of SAFA’s Master Technical Plan, also known as Vision 2022, is to have all the national football teams ranked in the top three in Africa and in the top twenty in the world. They hope to achieve this in the next ten years.

History shows that this aim is not beyond reach, as Bafana Bafana was ranked #19 in 1996, when they also occupied the #1 spot in Africa, and won the African Cup of Nations trophy. It will, however, be an uphill battle as according to FIFA’s latest rankings, Bafana Bafana is #64 in the world and #12 in Africa, and the women’s team, Banyana Banyana, at #50 in the world and #4 in Africa.The men’s team have been unable to do sufficiently well in Africa to qualify for the last few World Cups on merit.

But, to regain the ground that was lost over the past twenty years, soccer will have to be improved from the bottom up.

When Bafana Bafana won the CAF trophy in 2000, Clive Barker had a pool of at least 200 South Africans in the 20 teams in the domestic leagues to choose from. Now, the 16 domestic teams only need to have six local players, giving Gordon Igesund effectively 96 players to choose from, SAFA reported to the Parliamentary Committe on Sport.

Grassroots development

Apart from the current hundred private development centres and sport school academies registered with SAFA, they will now establish a number of academies in all provinces. “Ideally, each of the academies should house 15 players at each age level from U14 upwards,” says SAFA Development Agency (SDA) CEO, Dr Robin Petersen. “They will be launched province by province as we identify suitable partners and places,” he adds.

The SDA, headed by the former SAFA CEO, was established a year ago with the aim of improving soccer below national level. But, their scope was limited by funds, having raised only R30-40-m for development, SAFA told the Parliamentary Committee on Sport in February.

Sasol last year became the first corporate sponsor of SAFA’s Development Agency (SDA).The petrochemicals company has been involved in development for over 20 years, supporting the U23 men’s national team, Amaglug-glug, and the women’s national team Banyana Banyana, and have now strengthened their ties with SAFA through grassroots development. For the next coming three years Sasol will contribute R3-m towards the agency.

Sasol’s sponsorship will be used for developing grassroots structures in the Fezile Dabi region in the Free State, which includes the town Sasolburg, and the neighbouring Gert Sibande region in Mpumalanga. Last year, SAFA established the U13 and U15 leagues for boys and girls, which is a first step in the journey of enhancing the standard of soccer in the country, says Petersen.

This should also increase interest in soccer amongst school age players. For retailers, each new league means that they can sell new team kit to the competing teams, as well as match balls for the extra matches.

In a further step to improve grassroots play and encourage new players to enter, the SDA last year announced plans to grow the number of licenced coaches at Local Football Associations (LFA’s) to 15 000. They aim to do this by increasing the number of coaching educators from 30 to 150. Level 3 and level 2 coaches would be trained to become coaching educators, who would, in turn, train aspirant coaches in two LFA’s each.

Soccer player numbers

There are currently 341 LFA’s registered with SAFA countrywide, with each LFA representing many clubs. “The number of clubs and teams in each LFA varies widely, from 30 to over 200 clubs in some of the larger LFAs,” say Petersen. There are therefore between 10 000 to 68 000 grassroots soccer clubs in the country.

If each club only manages to attract a minimum squad of 15 players, there are 150 000 to 1-m registered soccer players involved in league play at club level — not counting schools. KwaZulu Natal is topping the number of LFA’s (70), followed by the Eastern Cape (57) and the Western Cape (55) with the third most local football associations. Most of the LFA’s are clustered around the big cities.

At school level, soccer is managed by SAFA’s associate, The SA School Football Association (SASFA). A research project is currently underway to establish how many school leagues are functioning and how many school players participate, says Petersen.

Big plans from Netball SA

For Netball South Africa the launch of the much anticipated Netball Premier League (NPL) will be one of the priorities they hope to achieve this year. The league was supposed to be launched last year, but it failed to get off the ground.

A professional league will offer the thousands of girls who play netball at school a goal — and possible career option — after they no longer play in the school leagues. There were approximately 1.95-m adult and junior netball players in South Africa in 2012, according to research company Accelerate’s Gary Grant.

By far most netball players are black, reports Grant: 1.5-m black women, or 77% of the total, and 222 200 white women play netball. But netball is the #1 participation sport among women of all races, according to statistics from a 2007 BMI survey quoted in the SRSA’s A Case for Sport and Recreation publication. Netball is the third most popular sport among all school children — following soccer and athletics — and above rugby and cricket.

In order to improve the level of play, Netball SA last year held workshops for grassroots coaches in every province and staged national tournaments to identify potential future Protea players. In order to develop the sport, it is a priority for the association to attract more partners who would invest in netball, says Netball SA president Mimi Mthethwa.

“A lot of companies are beginning to show interest in netball,” she says. “This brings hope that we would soon have adequate partners.” In addition to Spar as named sponsor, Asics was announced as the new apparel sponsor of the SPAR Proteas and the U21 side in March this year. Last year ball supplier Mitre announced a R2.5-m sponsorship of Netball SA for the next seven years.

Attracting sponsors

SA Schools Netball (SASN) is sponsored by Mitre, Xco Sport and NuPay. Their objective is to encourage mass participation in netball at school level by assisting with coaching and participation in leagues at school, district, regional, provincial and national levels.

Since last year, regular live broadcasts of the matches played by the national side, Spar Proteas, have generated more interest in the sport, especially since the national team have been performing well. The Proteas last year won the Africa Championships in Malawi, beat world #3 England to win the Tri-Nations in Port Elizabeth, and the SPAR Baby Proteas came 5th at the World Youth Netball Championships in Glasgow.

They are therefore confident that they could win a medal at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland. According to Mthethwa the top four countries in the world have shown increased interest in playing against the Proteas as they realize that the country is an emerging force.

Rugby development

There are several development initiatives under way to grow rugby participation, which was just under half a million registered players, according to the last figures available ( More than 300 000 players are still at school, and nearly 18 000 are women. This will be done through initiatives to help improve club administration and performance of rugby players.

“Club rugby is the lifeblood of the sport and its administration plays a vital role in developing rugby at grassroots level,” said Mervin Green, South African Rugby Union (SARU) GM Development, when the Clubwise programme was launched in January this year. He also said that if all clubs get to function well, it would contribute hugely to successful rugby development.

The ClubWise course, the first of its kind for rugby club in administration, covers every aspect of club administration — from goals and governance to player and member welfare by way of fund-raising, financials and marketing and match-day activities.

The development of player performance at all levels — even as young as U13 — will be assisted with a new Footprint computer programme, designed to capture each player’s performance, so that it can be monitored over the years. The tool was introduced at a recent symposium held in Stellenbosch where coaches from junior, provincial to national team level could share ideas. This is a follow-up to SARU’s HP Mobi-Unit introduced in 2013.

A new rugby academy has been launched to develop young rugby players in the Boland. It is expected that this academy will ensure that a number of black young players are exposed to top flight rugby. The growth and development of the game is not limited to South Africa.

A conference was recently held in Cape Town where development and growing the game was top of the agenda. The conference, which was part of the IRB Development Strategy aimed at growing rugby around the world, was attended by rugby administrators from several African countries, including Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

A further development is bound to grow rugby interest on the soccer-mad continent: Kenya’s Tusker Simba XV will replace the Argentinian Pampas in the Vodacom Cup. This could create a new option for selling replica shirts among expats.

Local Football Associations

KwaZulu Natal 70
Eastern Cape 57
Western Cape 55
Gauteng 48
Northern Cape 27
Limpopo 25
Free State 22
North West 19
Mpumalanga 18



South African rugby players-November 2006

Pre-teen male players 169 980
Pre-teen female players 2 248

Total junior players

172 228

Teen male players 129 191
Teen female players 7 595

Total youth players

136 786

Senior male players 147 650
Senior female players 7 813

Total senior players

155 463

Total male players 446 821
Total female players 17 656

Total players

464 477

Estimated teams 30 965
Registered referees 2 056

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