Worth Reading: The History of Soccer in South Africa

It’s no surprise that some of the best writing in the mainstream press on soccer and South Africa comes from those who have actually spent some time in the country, or at least the relevant continent. Not a shocker.

Today, David Crary — a news editor for the Associated Press in South Africa from 1987 to 1990 — offers an informative, compelling and positive story including a brief history of soccer in South Africa as a force for good, despite the obstacles its development faced, as he explains in a piece for the AP:

Over many decades of minority rule, South Africa’s white authorities wielded every kind of law and policy they could think of to maintain a segregated society that kept blacks down. Yet one sport confounded every strategy – soccer.

When Bafana Bafana, the mostly black national squad, takes the field next Friday as host team of the 2010 World Cup, that moment will culminate the dramatic evolution of South African soccer along a path that foretold the demise of apartheid.

Crary delves into this history in some detail, at least for an AP article, such as with this passage:

The ’70s and ’80s produced an array of brilliant black players – including Ace Ntsoelengoe of the Kaizer Chiefs and Jomo Sono of the Orlando Pirates. They both played in the North American Soccer League as well as in South Africa, and Sono – highlighting the ascension of blacks in the sport – purchased a previously white Johannesburg team when he returned home in 1982.

Tony Karon, a South African-born journalist with Time.com, wrote an essay after Ntsoelengoe’s death in 2006, recalling how the great black stars of the apartheid era had become heroes to young South African fans of all races.

Because of the international sports boycott imposed on South Africa during apartheid, players like Ntsoelengoe never got to represent their country internationally. Yet Karon argues that they played a historic role nonetheless.

“The emergence of Ace and his contemporaries as the first generation of urban black celebrities in South Africa … was a negation of the very basis of apartheid’s version of black identity as a rural, tribal phenomenon,” Karon wrote.

Read the rest here. Note: some of the history mentioned in it has been covered here by Andrew Guest, so check out his pieces on South African soccer and the old North American Soccer League,and one on how South Africa’s greatest soccer moment complemented their now famous Rugby World Cup victory.

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