1 September 2017 – The date: 13th July 2014. The venue: Maracana Stadium, Brazil. The event: FIFA World Cup final.  The result: Philipp Lahm lifting the coveted gold trophy as Germany is crowned world champions.

The above-mentioned success was no fluke. It had nothing to do with luck or talent alone either. A disastrous Euro 2000 campaign resulted in a massive overhaul of German football with a particular focus on a centralised registration system for players, match officials, coaches, administrators and a crucial alignment of all German football regions onto one single platform, in order to aid a certain amount of standardization. The results of such a revolutionary technology system speak for themselves and Germany is now the most successful, feared and consistent national team of the past decade.

The South African Football Association’s (SAFA) much talked about Vision 2022 project, is inherently based upon ‘seven key streams to success’ – one of which is Technology. Far from just a ‘buzzword’, the term is actually mentioned in as many as four of the seven streams, highlighting its importance. SAFA view this administrative technology as an absolutely vital and necessary tool for the overall success of South African football, using Germany as the perfect example, and here’s why.

It is now well documented that SAFA’s digital wing has formed a key partnership with Port Elizabeth based and renowned software company, Inqaku, to develop such a system i.e. ‘MYSAFA’. MYSAFA is a platform which aims to digitise the entire registration process of South African football, build an intricate statistical online database of all card carrying footballers and allow an easy flow of information of all grassroots football activities.

The ultimate aim is to make the sport cleaner by preventing age-cheating, tracking players more easily and enhancing the overall efficiency of South African football as a whole.

This registration and competition system was piloted in various regions of the Eastern Cape with success and then rolled out to further regions, with numerous training seminars and workshops already taking place (the recent Western Cape and KZN workshops a case in point). It was also announced that the registration for the 2017/2018 SAB League will indeed be carried out on the new central management platform. The Sasol Women’s League and ABC Motsepe League will follow soon after, hence making the transition to LFA’s and club level that much simpler.

“The centralised players registration system is one of the cornerstones of this new approach. For the past two decades we have been saying that we need a unified database to enable identification, tracking and maintaining a historical archive of players’ development” said SAFA CEO, Dennis Mumble. “This is now possible”, he continued.

According to Mumble, the approach combines entrepreneurial agility and value with the clout and authority associated with a sport governing body. This fresh approach – similar to the payment system invented by Standard Bank with SnapScan which revolutionised how South Africans make and accept payments – illustrates SAFA’s understanding that, for a massive shift to occur, thinking outside the box is key.

Dreaming big alone will not win us a FIFA World Cup, but Inqaku have glimpsed the future of the sport, and it boils down to big data.  “Sport in South Africa , especially football, stands to benefit massively from big data collection and analysis,” stated Dr. Kayode Ayankoya, a data scientist and MYSAFA advisor.  “Data-driven decision making will be at the fingertips of football administrators, coaches, sponsors, scouts and even journalists.  Today there is an opportunity to jump into the lead – at least in Africa – by harnessing the membership and statistical data our sport generates.”

Obvious benefits of embracing such a system include the prevention of age cheating (doctoring of ID’s) as well as restricting players from registering in multiple leagues and playing for different teams – issues which have plagued football development in South Africa for a long while. Having a single registration system will help eliminate cross-registration and player identity fraud at all levels of the game and also allow for tailor-made training programmes. The prevention of incorrect paperwork, particularly in rural areas is also a positive of the system. The software is also linked to the Home Affairs data-base to track players via ID numbers, which adds that much more credibility to the system.

MYSAFA will also assist the body to track players ‘on the ground’ across divisions and all age groups, improving SAFA’s ability to identify and nurture talent much earlier, as well as be able to pinpoint exactly where the player comes from. This will also help the body to act accordingly with resources, coaching, soccer kits, equipment, finances and general assistance in such areas. This project is also designed to increase the visibility of schools football and encourage participation while at the same time cutting many costs as well.

SAB League fixtures, results and log tables will also be maintained on MYSAFA and automatically published on www.safa.net for the first time. The registration process itself is such a simple, user-friendly process and the verifier app is yet another major technological advancement which allows real-time scanning of players and thus helps matches to be played almost immediately. Having such a web-based system for the first time means that all LFAs can finally be connected and empowered to manage their own registrations and data entries. Players will now also be able to view their very own statistics and records. The system is virtually online and hence easily accessible with no major ‘infrastructure’ required.

Having software that promotes better communication between the various structures within South African football and thus streamlining the administrative aspects of the game, is simply long overdue. Eventually, this technological aspect is what will separate us from the rest of the continent and take us back to our rightful position amongst the world’s elite footballing nations. Recent years have seen our various national teams improve immeasurably and qualify for World Cups, Olympic Games and major tournaments at all levels, and it is no coincidence that MYSAFA was being developed simultaneously during this period. Could South Africa do a Germany and be crowned world champions one day? With the birth of MYSAFA . . . that dream may not be too far away.

By Dhirshan Gobind