Msunduzi Mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla was at pains yesterday as he defended his decision to pump millions of rands from the purse of the city into the now-relegated Maritzburg United.
Thebolla’s decision on funding the soccer team has caused heated debates at the city’s executive committee meetings, with opposition parties questioning the logic of giving them millions of rands while local residents are battling with the lack of service delivery.
The city’s purse has taken a knock to the extent that a ministerial report recently revealed that Msunduzi’s coffers were almost empty.
Thebolla said that while Maritzburg United’s relegation broke their hearts, they had to invest in the club.
“We invested in this club as we believed that it was making a huge difference to the city’s economy and tourism.
“Friday nights will not be the same again. When there’s a home game, we had the assurance that a certain number of people won’t be found in taverns, but they will be in stadiums. The biggest losers in this are the hospitality industry. When big teams are playing in the city, they used to get bookings.”
Investing in the club
He said service stations will also lose out. He added that this had been a good investment.
“We acknowledge that the city has challenges. Our constitutional obligation is to deliver services. One other responsibility that people pretend they don’t see is to create a conducive environment for economic growth and job creation.
“Investing in this club and any other sports team is to do that. Today people make a living out of sports. Investing in sports is investing in the future of the country. This club was able to bring Maritzburg people together. That is gone now. We will be able to see after two seasons if the club is able to come back or if we are able to get another team,” he added.
Thebolla said they had seen this coming for some time but had hoped that the club would be able to turn things around.
“Social cohesion and social compact are also lost, over and above the entertainment it was bringing to the city.
“It is a sad and huge loss to the people of the city. Citizens must stay focused and hope that this team comes back. We hope to have more teams. We will open our nets as we don’t want Harry Gwala Stadium to become a white elephant.
“In future the team should try and find people who would be prepared to die for the city in a way that they are proud of wearing the Maritzburg United jersey.
“I believe that they could have done better and that includes coaching staff, technical teams and players. We have never discussed this with them but I think it’s time they hear that,” he added.
The ‘gutted’ Maritzburg United have announced that they will carefully analyse the situation and then notify the club’s supporters of the way forward some time next week.
This after the so-called ‘Team of Choice’ was relegated from the top flight of South African football, the DStv Premiership, on Wednesday, following a goalless draw against Cape Town Spurs in the last match of the PSL playoffs at Harry Gwala Stadium.
Farook Kadodia, Maritzburg United’s chairperson and managing director, described the relegation as ‘a sad day for Pietermaritzburg’, saying the club was fully aware of having let local fans down.
“We are gutted. We are still digesting this whole thing and would like to ask the fans to give us a few days before we make an announcement on the way forward,” he said.
He added that the club will not only look at playing matters, but also whether its management structure should change, including his role as managing director.
“We have been involved in relegation battles many times, but, sadly, the fight in the team was not strong enough this season. And we made plenty of diabolical mistakes.
“As I said before, our team gave away goals like early Christmas gifts.”
Several of Maritzburg’s star players are expected to leave the club as United will take in lower revenues in the lower league, the First Division, next season.
“This is largely because clubs in the DStv Premiership receive much higher monthly grants from the Premier Soccer League than clubs in the First Division, with a knock-on effect on player salaries.”
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