As finance manager of the South African Football Association (SAFA), Gift Sikonde CA(SA) is enjoying every moment of his role − from listening to radio soccer broadcasts and having early Monday morning chats with friends who watched the game on TV to now having the perks of watching games at presidential suits and getting to meet all the players.
Not only is SAFA the governing body of all football activities in the country, but they want the youngsters of every township, village and rural area to realise their dream of being a football player. Interestingly, SAFA has not had a CA(SA) on their internal payroll in their over 30 years of existence, therefore one of Gift’s goals is to create a tangible difference with his expertise. ‘When you do something that you fully invested in, you most likely going to do it best as compared to just following what is said to be the winning formula,’ he says.
We recently spoke to Gift.
Tell us more about your role?
As the finance manager, my role mainly entails executing all the finance-related decisions taken by the executive team. I have a great finance team of four members who have vast experience working for SAFA. I report to the CFO, an articulate man with over 23 years of service who also has been the backbone of the organisation.
Tell us more about SAFA?
SAFA is the governing body of all football activities in the country. They are responsible for the sport that is in the hearts of most South Africans. Mainly SAFA has a long-term vision for football in the country: the aim is not only to host a weekend tournament but to create a long-lasting system that would eventually feed the national teams. The most recent Banyana Banyana triumph at the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations clearly depicts the role of SAFA in South African soccer. A number of the players that lifted the trophy started or mastered their careers in these ranks that SAFA has put in place.
What were some of the perceptions you had regarding the industry and how has working at SAFA changed these?
Many people believe SAFA is a government entity. They believe we have a stable budget from the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture (DSAC). And that is not true: SAFA is an independent non-profit organisation governed by its own statute. The government and DSAC are key stakeholders and in some matters a regulatory body. And yes, the department does provide financial assistance to certain SAFA projects on the basis that we do an application that will be approved, and we report back on the funds’ utilisation.
This myth has also left most of the general public in the country frustrated, as they believe SAFA should be carrying out service delivery as they are using government money.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Preparing sponsorship reports for accountability of the money received. Most of the sponsorship agreements would detail the projects and activities that the money should be spent on. As the finance team, we therefore prepare a report back to the sponsor to give details on how the money was spent, as per the contract.
This is an exciting exercise − it also involves stakeholder management, as we build confidence and trust with our sponsors. They would be happy if their relationship with SAFA is yielding the intended results.
What are your goals at SAFA?
SAFA has not had CA(SA) on their internal payroll in their over 30 years of existence. I am hoping to contribute greatly to the commercial viability aspect of the SAFA vision. Being a CA from a commercial background, I want to play a pivotal role in making the already established SAFA Technical Centre a profit-generating business that can assist the organisation to self-fund some of its activities.
There’s already an initiative to seek potential investors who would like to invest in a separate legal entity to build a luxury hotel that can be used for accommodation by our national teams as well as other teams. One of the organisation’s major expenses is accommodation, so there’s an existing customer base for this venture. This would also attract many football lovers to book at this hotel as they know they might just bump into their favourite soccer stars.
This would be a pure profit-making business venture − investors would be coming in with the clear intention of earning a return on their investment, while it would greatly assist the association in funding football development initiatives in the country.
What are some of your highlights since you joined SAFA?
Well, the Banyana Banyana Women’s Africa Cup of Nations championship victory was a great welcome for me at SAFA. The most special thing for me was how much this win meant to people who have devoted their lives to women’s football over the years. Getting to finally win a major continental tournament was so fulfilling for them.
And yes, Banyana Banyana made me famous when I appeared on national TV, ‘happy’ to confirm their bonus payments. We wish them all the best as they prepare for the 2023 Women’s World Cup in July next year.
What are some key challenges you face in your industry? And how do you deal with them?
Perceptions. During my interview, the COO said the issue in football is that everyone wants to have a say. So we receive public criticism for the decisions we take if they don’t yield the intended results. Everyone would like to have a say in who should be the coach of the national team or so.
There’d be also some admin glitches that would be blown out of proportion as there’s a lot of media attention on the sport. For example, a club was not paid because they had not submitted their documentation on time, and once they did submit they ran around making bad comments about SAFA not paying them, and even attempted to bring this to the attention of the sponsor − not considering that if the sponsor pulls out on SAFA, there would not be any money that they can complain about.
We constantly need to inform people of the right channels to raise their concerns. The organisation has 52 regions across the country, so surely everyone can voice their views and follow the right protocols to see them through.