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Matthew Booth's letter to Minister Nathi Mthethwa


Honourable Minister I was encouraged to write to you regarding the plight of professional and ex-professional footballers and their lack of educational opportunities which should be preparing them for life after football. I had submitted a similar letter to our mother body, the South African Football Association (SAFA), shortly after the passing of Philemon ‘Chippa’ Masinga … but with, so far, no feedback. It has been reported that 75 percent of all ex-professional football players, from Europe and South Africa, will be bankrupt, divorced, drug- or alcohol-dependent, or a combination of these factors after five years of retirement. A shocking statistic indeed! To change this statistic will take more than just education and warnings of the pitfalls of not saving and not saving soon enough. I feel a compulsory, forced policy in the form of a pension fund which is supported by all the important role players such as SAFA, the Premier Soccer League (PSL), the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the South African Football Players Union (SAFPU) can be the only remedy. Once retirement hits, an ex-player has to face physical, psychological and economic issues. Physical: With no strict regimen in place it is up to the ex-athlete to stay fit. This is often difficult to maintain as he is no longer in a group environment or adhering to a contract that stipulates that he should. He invariably changes body shape over the next couple of years which can be a blow to the ego. Psychological: The ex-player is not in the spotlight anymore, he does not have journalists phoning him, he is no longer featured on TV, and his status changes amongst community, family and friends. A change in physical appearance can be harmful to his ego and the way that his girlfriend, wife or partner views him, possibly leading to relationship problems. The fact that he might not have anything to do once he retires might lead to listlessness and anti-social behaviour. Economic: By far the worst element of the three! During their playing days, the pressure to support an extended family and adhere to status means that savings are not maximised, despite the type of salary received. Post-career means the regular income disappears and if the ex-player does not have a regular job or business to fall back on (which is more often than not the case) then he is forced to ‘eat’ into his savings immediately after retiring. Eventually policies are closed, insurance cancelled, and houses sold as the ex-athlete heads towards bankruptcy, panic, desperation and possible depression. The solution to ease their plight during-retirement phase will involve a multi-faceted approach whereby education programmes (certificates, diplomas or degrees) are offered and encouraged during their playing careers so that once they retire the transition is a smooth one and no time and income is lost in-between. With this in mind, I myself, with all my ‘connections’, have struggled to get onto any form of database with regards SAFA’s coach education programme, and am simply wanting information and opportunity to improve my skillset. I am privileged enough to be living in a Metro with fairly well-organised Local Football Associations (LFA). I can only imagine the lack of opportunity in other parts of South Africa. Most who have played the game at a high level will acknowledge that Bafana Bafana is NOT the reason for our stunted growth and success, but in fact it is the lack of country-wide organised football, progressive educational opportunities (which begs the question: Who is coaching our coaches?) and petty-politics that envelop our LFA’s, which in combination when working in an optimised fashion should be feeding Bafana Bafana and Banyana Banyana. We must all endeavour to make it fashionable inside the changing-room for the talk to be about business start-ups, degrees and which book is a ‘must read’, rather than the latest car that was bought and which girl was taken home the previous night. Should an ex-player not succeed in finding a job with a decent income due to a lack of profile and or preparation, then the Dutch/CFK pension fund policy (example below) will act as a buffer and give the player economic solace.

Who contributes (in my opinion it should be the players’ sole responsibility), what percentage and terms of payout can be investigated more thoroughly to suit the South African landscape. This example might benefit the entertainment industry as a whole. Should this policy come into effect in South Africa I am confident that it will encourage better products in our game as players will be more confident, self- assured during their playing days and less fearful of the ‘after-life’. After all a better all-round product - the player - is always a better reflection on the organisations that govern our game! Yours in Sport

Matthew Booth


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