Tuesday, June 15, 2010

2010 World Cup: Makana FA

Neck and neck between ITV and the BBC in the Cliche World Cup.

Safari, townships, vuvuzelas.

Package those three things as many ways as possible and hope the viewers don't notice how lazy you're being. Or that they're too stupid to realise you're patronising both them and an entire continent.

The nadir might have been reached when Kelly Cates kicked of ITV's coverage of England v USA at Rorke's Drift. Shame the England players decided to play like Michael Caine in Escape To Victory rather than summoning the spirit of Gonville Bromhead.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see Gaby Logan's report on the Makana FA last night.

Makana FA was the football league created by Nelson Mandela's fellow prisoners on Robben Island in 1966.

Sport, especially football, gave the prisoners something to cling to amid the bleakness of their existence in the jail:

The MFA is said to have developed into an outlet and symbol of the prisoners’ passion and commitment to discipline. The film’s synopsis describes the MFA as a “training ground not only for the body but for the political soul, where the principles of negotiation and dialogue [were] practiced and entrenched.”

Speaking to GoingPlaces.co.za, Suze who was imprisoned on Robben Island for 15 years and was also one of the founding members of the MFA, echoes this sentiment when he speaks of the stone quarry that became the centre of every prisoner’s life.

“Everything happened at this quarry – this was our communal life. Lessons took place; the soccer games reviewed and teams decided upon; and if there was any disciplinary action needed for the players, this is where it was decided. Even political differences were resolved.” South Africa - The Good News

'We played soccer on Robben Island with such passion and such detail - it was another way of survival,' said Suze. 'Somehow we found a Fifa book there and played according to Fifa rules. In a situation that sought to undermine us, it gave us hope. It is amazing to think a game that people take for granted all around the world was the very same game that gave a group of prisoners sanity and in a way glorified us.'

At first the men played covertly in their cells using balls made of paper, cardboard and rags. Then in 1965, after sustained lobbying, the authorities allowed prisoners to play outside on Saturdays. The teams built their own goals and threw off their prison uniforms to put on team colours. The Guardian

The league, former prisoners say, was operated in three divisions — A, B and C, based on players' abilities — complete with trainers, managers, referees and coaches from the prison population of as many as 1,400 men. Games were played on Saturdays for almost nine months a year; the league shut down in summer. Eventually, prisoners competed in track and field those months.

The league had several standing committees to deal with a range of issues, including discipline and maintenance. USA Today

A remarkable story. And a reminder that even as we moan about poor quality games and a ball that might be too round, this World Cup is more than the sum of its parts. It's a tribute to the people who sacrificed so much to defeat oppression. Football gave them hope.

If nothing else we should see South Africa's World Cup as football's way of honouring their struggle.

Fifa gave the Makana FA honorary membership in 2007.

The story of the Makana FA has been chronicled in the book More Than Just a Game: Football v Apartheid which was also turned into a film

More on the BBC site.