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Kaizer Chiefs' decline must not overshadow stadium violence

Steve Komphela's early exit from Kaizer Chiefs came after another dismal loss, but that should not in any way condone the actions of hooligans masquerading as football fans that provided another dark chapter in South African football history on Saturday night.

Chiefs fans went on the rampage after their 2-0 loss to Free State Stars in the Nedbank Cup semi finals in Durban, setting parts of the Moses Mabhida Stadium alight, causing millions of Rand's worth of damage to television equipment and vehicles, and most distressingly meting out violence on security personnel, including severely injuring a woman.

It was thuggery that can have no justification and the punishment needs to be severe.

Chiefs cast themselves as the biggest club in South Africa - possibly Africa - and love to talk up their extensive following throughout the country, yet they have shown in this month that they cannot provide adequate safety to their fans at the stadia.

The Soweto club are caught in a difficult space - they are a big brand that over the decades has created great expectation among their supporters with their previous success, but are now unable to meet those lofty ambitions.

Fingers will be pointed at coach Komphela, who desperately wanted to win silverware for the club even as it became clear he would leave at the end of the season, but he cannot shoulder the blame alone.

The recruitment of players to the team in the last three years has been desperately poor, especially among the forwards, where their problems really lie.

Chiefs have been solid defensively and have a good central midfield, but finding width, a creative playmaker to operate behind the striker and forwards who can consistently put the ball in the back of the net has been the Achilles Heel.

These are not easy talents to find in the South African market or neighbouring countries, but other teams have managed and Chiefs have time and again been outfoxed in the market, left to take a chance on players who from the outset it was clear did not have the talent required.

It is an unfamiliar space for them to be in, so long the top dogs in the country, they have long been surpassed by Mamelodi Sundowns, but also Bidvest Wits and SuperSport United in terms of pulling power, despite the struggles of those two teams this season.

So poor have they been in the last three years that it is hard to remember them lifting the league title as recently as 2015, before the core of that side was allowed to disband and move elsewhere, replaced by players of much less quality.

Komphela, it would appear, had limited say in who was brought in to the team, yet will forever be judged on the inability of the side to claim silverware.

The question now for the Premier Soccer League is how to handle what is a growing number of violent incidents in the domestic game, sights that had seemingly been banished with the 1990s.

It is the second violent incident in a month involving Chiefs, who will now certainly have to cough up the remainder of their R200,000 suspended sentence for the first incident that followed the 3-0 loss to Chippa United, and will face bigger sanctions.

Orlando Pirates will play Tuesday's league game against Bidvest Wits behind closed doors after they were found guilty of similar fan misbehaviour dating back to February 2017.

But the problem now for the league is that lenient sentence, with supporters still able to watch the game on television, was both light and sets a precedent.

Given the incidents were similar in nature, involving a pitch invasion, violence towards security personnel and other fans, and destruction of property, it would be hard for the league to argue for a tougher sanction for Chiefs.

However, that is what is needed, because who is really impacted by the sentences handed down?

The supporters who miss one game that they can still watch on TV, or the clubs who miss out on gate revenue, yet also don't have the associated costs of running a game such as additional security, policing, etc.

The league bemoans the empty stands at matches, but who would go to watch a game, either on their own or with their family, with the threat of such despicable violence as we saw on Saturday night?

South African football has a growing sickness and unless the symptoms are treated quickly and decisively, the violence, and possibly deaths, will continue.

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