'Football has never needed a quota system and it never will'

When South Africa face Mexico in the opening match of the 2010 World Cup on Friday, Soccer City will be packed with supporters from across the Rainbow Nation's racial divides.

Out on the pitch, however, it will be a different story. After goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez was surprisingly left out, the Bafana Bafana squad contains just one white player, defender Matthew Booth, and no players of Indian extraction.

With Booth not expected to make the starting line-up, the likelihood is the host country will be represented by 11 players from families who were all denied the right to vote until the end of apartheid. That is a far cry from the country's most successful footballing achievement back in 1996, just two years after Nelson Mandela was elected President. The meeting with Tunisia in the African Nations' Cup final saw three white players (captain Neil Tovey, Mark Fish and Eric Tinkler) start the game, with a further three on the bench as South Africa went on to record a 2-0 victory.

That team was coached by Clive Barker, an early pioneer of non-racial football, and he believes the decline of white players in South Africa has much to do with the collapse of apartheid. "In the old days, the amateur game was the nursery for our rising players and that's why so many came through. That's dropped away steadily as part of the overall demise in standards throughout the country, which means the national team have far less players to pick from," he said.

With his towering height and bald head, Booth emerged as a cult hero at last year's Confederations Cup. That was also largely due to his status as the team's only white player and despite having dropped down the pecking order since then, he admitted that he feels a duty to change the commonly held theory that football is "the black man's game" in South Africa. "A lot of foreign media have taken up this issue with me and I've tried to change that perception," said Booth. "If you scratch the surface, one of the best teams in the country, Mamelodi Sundowns, have four white players in the squad while AmaZulu have five or six.

"It is probably a bit disproportionate in terms of our overall population but white kids are still generally attracted to rugby and cricket because they are perceived to be more successful, and at amateur levels they are much better organised. Hardly any schools now offer their kids the chance to play football, which is a great pity, and I think the standard has dropped considerably because of a lack of proper structure at youth levels."

Now director of football at AmaZulu, Barker has high hopes that the arrival of the World Cup will change that forever. He is a firm believer that South Africa's racial diversity should be used to their advantage in the future and partly attributes Bafana Bafana's slip down the Fifa rankings in recent years to the lack of white players who have risen to the top.

"You don't want to make an issue out of something like that but the statistics show that has happened in South African football," he said. "AmaZulu fans have a saying: you can never win anything if you don't mix it. We definitely need to find ways to bring white kids back into the game."

For Booth, it is more of an indictment on general standards in football development. "It's a coincidence; there have been a number of white players knocking on the door. We can't expect the team to be racially representative all the time and I'm glad it has not gone the way of cricket and rugby with quotas. Football has never needed a quota system and never will."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected