Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice
University of the Free State
I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice, University of the Free State, South Africa. In April 2016, I graduated with a PhD from the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. My doctoral thesis, entitled: Sporting Lives and “Development” Agendas: a critical analysis of sport and “development” nexus in the context of farm workers of the Western Cape, is an ethnographic study of sports in a small farming town of Rawsonville. Broadly, my research focuses on everyday sporting lives of those in spaces and collectives identified as in need of “development”. My research paper entitled: amaXhosa Maradona (under consideration), was selected for presentation at the Soccer as a Global Phenomenon conference, hosted by the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History (WIGH) at Harvard University. Later, the same paper was invited for discussion at The Football Scholars Forum, an online book-club based at the Michigan State University. The paper reflects on my current and prospective research, and an evolving book-length manuscript. Recently, I conceptualised and co-organised the eleventh edition of the Sports Africa Conference, hosted by the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice, at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa, from 10th to 12th April 2017.
The Gambling Games: under-the-radar, “unofficial” and most popular soccer practices of South Africa
So, the [soccer] union had two different kinds of structures now: there’s the organised structure and there’s the unorganised structure. The organised structures are this, where the competitions being endorsed by SAFA [South African Football Association], and the unorganised structure is this: where anyone can come and organise a competition for money and any team can come and play.
It is the ‘unorganised structure’ that I discuss in this paper. The soccer practices, ‘where anyone can come and organise a competition for money’, were colloquially referred to as the gambling games. Drawing on my ethnographic fieldwork over the past four years, I discuss the history and dynamics within which gambling games allow a very large number of small soccer clubs to emerge, sustain and compete on regular basis. The ‘under-the-radar’ character of gambling games, in and of itself, is of historical relevance, explaining the meanings people find in, and the agency they express through, soccer in their everyday lives. I draw on participant observations and the oral accounts of soccer patrons from particular a local, in a particular time, and a particular socio-economic group. These gambling games are neither unique nor novel to the working class of Rawsonville in the Western Cape, my fieldwork site. The embeddedness of the gambling games within informal economy of townships and rural areas suggests an intricate link between unofficial and official soccer in South Africa. To this end, I describe and discuss the role of unofficial soccer and importance of gambling, both as a sport and as a ‘structure’, as most widely practiced leisure activity in South Africa.