Starstruck by a Bolt out of the blue
South African sport can be the best and the worst of things.
The former applies when somehow we're able to attract foreign sports stars under the premise of wanting to grow the game at grassroots level. The latter works on the same premise but has a short-term shelf life with the aim of maximising a brand.
Usain Bolt's visit, one of many by stars of his kind, immediately springs to mind.
We all love Bolt and he resonates with South Africans on many levels. He's from a Caribbean island (Jamaica) where a former leader (Michael Manley) was a staunch opponent of apartheid. One of Jamaica's favourite cricketing sons (Michael Holding) is currently serenading listeners with an upright and honest brand of commentary that's not always applicable in South African broadcasting.
Mamelodi Sundowns were the biggest beneficiaries of
Bolt's South African sojourn.
Bolt, his excellence as an athlete paired with his easygoing charm, makes marketers and fans eat out of his hands. Mamelodi Sundowns were the biggest beneficiaries of Bolt's South African sojourn. After all, the club had to cash in through their apparel sponsor, Puma. How the Bulls, who share the same sponsor, missed out on this boat is another opinion for another day.
Bolt will come and go, but will he leave a tangible legacy? Probably not. We've seen plenty of overseas sporting emissaries coming to South Africa on charm offensives that have seen ministers and the media on cloud nine.
There's nothing wrong with being starstruck once in a while so long as the eye is kept on the prize. It's a dreamland that's seen the powers that be forget the real reason why these stars come here. Often enough it's been at the expense of the grassroots developments they're here to promote.
Are we going to remember that Bolt was here a year from now? Are we going to be able to point to a positive effect Bolt's visit had on Athletics SA on January 29 2019?
There's nothing wrong with being starstruck once in a while so long as the eye is kept on the prize.
The organisers know exactly the kind of traction they need to gain and, if it means providing short-term opium to dull the senses, then so be it. The marketing companies that invest astronomical amounts of money in athletes like Bolt get a serious return in their investments. Their job is to milk every cent from their star's exposure.
Bolt, like the many other sporting stars who come to South Africa, will live long in the memories of those who were there and that's pretty much all we're left with.