18 December 2017 – Veteran South African footballer Teko Modise’s recent revelations regarding the use of ‘muti‘ during his time at Soweto giants Orlando Pirates, yet again opened up a ‘can of worms’ (no pun intended) and the age-old debate: is muti really a factor in football? Does it contribute in any way to individual players and teams performances?

For those not too familiar with the term, muti by definition, is a form of traditional African medicine or magical charms. It can be utilised for benefit or even against an intended party.

In this particular instance, the obvious intended benefit refers to the players and teams themselves (in terms of success and victory), whilst the negative alluded to above refers to the use of muti to disadvantage opposition teams as well as players. Smeared in different shapes and forms on the pitch, dressing rooms, tunnels and even behind the goalposts and on players themselves – where exactly does success begin and failure end?

The ultimate question remains – is it ultimately reality or myth? Does muti unequivocally play a role in football? In my humble opinion I strongly believe the hypothesis of muti having an influence in the outcome football matches and performances to be false, as I attempt to prove my case.

I begin with an excerpt from Modise’s book (The Curse of Teko Modise), in which the revelations were laid bare in the first place. He states: “Players would bath in a special mixture‚ then shower‚ climb back into bed and try to sleep before the game.  Even with this practice the results were not improving.” He goes on to describe in detail various other rituals and ceremonies which still did not help the players and team achieve the intended success.

To further strengthen my argument, it will be foolhardy not to mention the use of muti across the greater African continent. Cases are well documented in which most countries (particularly in the West African region) believe in its powers and utilise it at most matches, particularly at international level. Has an African team ever won the World Cup? We all know the answer unfortunately. If muti was that strong and had that amount of influence, our African teams won’t be lagging as far behind the rest of the world as we normally do.

The topic of muti is inherently more of a mental thing than anything else. The placebo effect comes into play here. If you believe something is going to affect you then you are already defeated (akin to walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror or coming across a black cat).

Also, if a team is indeed on a successful run while in conjunction with utilising muti, some form of medicine, charms, magic pastes or hired muti specialists, then it’s quite easy to believe in it, isn’t it? However, will such individuals ever stop to ponder if it is indeed somewhat of a coincidence or not? What about when failure occurs even whilst using the exact same muti?

In closing I leave it to you the football lover and fan and perhaps to the players and teams too. There is never going to be consensus, not just only within the African continent but more so across the globe. Superstitions around the subject will forever remain and to me it seems a case of mind over matter. Some simply believe in it and some don’t. Reality or fiction . . . you make up your own mind.

By: Dhirshan Gobind