2018 has been an eventful year, filled with scandals, successes and … sheer drama! From the Makhaya Ntini, Morne Morkel resignations – as Zimbabwe bowling coach and Proteas bowler that rocked the cricket world right at the beginning of the year, respectively – to the Australian ball tampering scandal; Usain Bolt’s attempts to play professional football; SAFA president Danny Jordaan and Ronaldo’s alleged rape scandals; the Caster Semenya-IAAF gender saga; stadium hooliganism; Siya Kolisi’s appointment as the first black Springboks Captain; the VAR-FIFA World Cup 2018 that saw only European countries make it to the last four; and recently, the emergence of tennis sensation Naomi Osaka, and the return of Tiger Woods in Golf, among many other highlights.

And what review would that be without a mention of the historic Women’s FIFA World Cup qualification by Banyana Banyana and Baroka FC’s rise to greatness in the Telkom Knockout, beating Orlando Pirates in the finals.

Russia 2018

In soccer, the biggest highlight of the year was the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018. The tournament – probably the most unpredictable one ever – added the missing spark on the sporting front, offering some much-needed distraction from all the negativity that preceded it in the world of sports.

The unpredictability of the 2018 installment of the quadrennial tournament made for arguably one of the most exciting of World Cup tournaments. The tournament saw regular cup contenders being eliminated way too early. Defending Champions Germany failed to make it out of the Group stages, while Argentina and Brazil only made it as far as the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals, respectively.

Underdog hosts, Russia surprised all and sundry when they made it to the Quarterfinals of the tournament, scoring 11 goals in their three Group Stage matches and eliminating former Champions, Spain, on their way to the Last 8 before going down to Croatia. The win continued… Croatia’s fairy-tale run in the tournament reaching the World Cup final for the first time in their history, losing to France.

But even the biggest soccer spectacle in the world was not without some controversy. The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was used for the first time in the tournament and it received some harsh criticism for the manner that it was employed, with some saying it was used to favour European teams.

The tournament produced some star players like Kylian Mbappe of France and long-time serving Croatian midfielder, Luka Modric. The latter went on to be voted UEFA’s Player of the Year on 31 August and the FIFA Player of the Year on 24 September. The Croatian has had a fantastic 2018 with the prestigious Ballon d’Or 2018.

The sporting highlights did not end with the soccer extravaganza; there were other stories that made big headlines…

Cricket resignations

Alleged complaints from Zimbabwean cricket players over Ntini’s coaching style, reportedly forced the powers that be in that country to ask Ntini to resign from the national cricket squad.

But perhaps the shock resignation came in a month later when lanky fast bowler Morne Morkel resigned from international cricket.

Proteas Captain AB de Villiers would also follow suit in May, resigning from international cricket after 114 Test matches, 228 One-Day Internationals and 78 Twenty20 matches for the Proteas.

Talking about resignations, former Bafana Bafana star Steven Pienaar also retired from football in March after failing to make an impact on the local scene with BidVest Wits Football Club.

Former Bafana Bafana Striker, Siyabonga Nomvethe would also follow suit later in September hanging up his boots at the age of 40.

But the most dramatic was former Kaizer Chiefs Coach Steve Komphela’s resignation with immediate effect after a Nedbank Cup semi-final loss to Free State Stars, which was marred by hooligans storming the field.

Ball tampering

Cricket was back in the spotlight in March when the Australian cricket team was caught in a ball tampering scandal during and after the third Test match against the Proteas in Cape Town. This, after Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera trying to rough up one side of the ball. Then vice-captain David Warner, his batting partner Bancroft and Steve Smith were later found guilty after an inquiry into the saga and were subsequently suspended.

But controversy didn’t end with cricket. It continued in athletics and soccer, with Caster Semenya and Danny Jordaan headlining hullabaloos in those sporting quotes, respectively.

Controversies 

After setting a new SA’s women’s 1000m record in March, the International Association of Athletics Association irked many when it announced new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) for events from 400m – in a move that seemed to target and discriminate against Semenya.

The rules required, among others, that Semenya must reduce her blood testosterone level to below five (5) nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months (e.g., by use of hormonal contraceptives). Simply put, Semenya had to weaken herself for her to be allowed to compete. Nothing could be more ludicrous!

Semenya remained defiant and enjoyed extensive support including from the SA Human Rights Commission. She remained focused, sprinting to a South African record time of 49.96 seconds to win the women’s 400m race at the African Championship in August.

But amid all that, there was the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) inquiry which kept trying to steal the show. The ministerial inquiry, conducted by an independent panel headed by retired Judge Ralph Zulman, into alleged maladministration and financial mismanagement at Sascoc ended with serious accusations being made about malfeasance at the athletics body by top officials.

The final report, released in December, found the athletics body to be factional and dysfunctional and recommended sweeping changes.

While Sascoc were kept busy trying to deal with the IAAF’s biological apartheid and their own internal mismanagement and corruption scandals, it was equally stormy on the other side of Johannesburg at the South African Football Association (SAFA) headquarters in Nasrec. This as SAFA president Danny Jordaan had to deal with rape accusations by singer and former Member of Parliament Jennifer Ferguson.

She accused Jordaan of sexually assaulting her in a hotel some 24 years ago. Jordaan reportedly opened a counter-case against Ferguson for defamation at the Sandton Police Station, a month after Ferguson had opened a case against the soccer boss.

Among the alleged rape case saga, Jordaan was re-elected unopposed at Safa President in May, but later in the year lost his bid to sit on the FIFA Council.

But Jordaan was not the only figure in soccer circles who had to fend of a rape accusations. Former Real Madrid star, Cristiano Ronaldo, who now plies his trade for Juventus in Italy, saw rape accusations that threatened his career in 2010 re-emerge. He, however, vehemently denied the accusations.

But it was not all doom and controversy … gloom rather, in sport!

Winning 

Former Mamelodi Sundowns star midfielder, Percy Tau was the big winner at the PSL Awards walking away with the Footballer of the Year and Player and Players’ Player of the Season awards. He was also joint Absa Premiership top goalscorer with Rodney Ramagalela of Polokwane City.

Cape Town City FC Coach Benni McCarthy also showed that he was not only a winner as a player, but could also repeat the same feat as a coach when he guided the Cape Town-based outfit to their maiden silverware, also his first, the MTN8 Cup. This when Cape Town FC beat SuperSport United on penalties at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on 29 September.

There was turmoil in rugby, or the Springboks to be more precise, when Allister Coetzee was sacked in February following his failure to inspire hope as the rugby national team coach. He was later replaced by Rassie Erasmus, becoming the 14th man since readmission to be appointed Springbok coach.

The 46-year-old had a decent run with the Springboks and gave hope that he could get the team back to its winning ways and perhaps even ready to challenge for honours in the upcoming 2019 Rugby World Cup to be held in Japan from 20 September to 2 November. His most red-lettered win will most likely be the historic 36-34 victory against the mighty All Blacks in their own backyard on 15 September.

The Springboks almost made history by winning back to back games against New Zealand when they met again in South Africa two weeks later. Having been in the driving seat, leading by 17 points at one point, the South African side let it slip to lose the match excruciatingly 32-30 right at the end.

But the Springboks’ inspiring showing against the All Blacks was a breath of fresh air in the world of rugby that had been rocked by racism scandal in the preceding months. This, when SuperSport Rugby Analyst and Springbok Wing, Ashwin Willemse walked off a live set – but not before he took aim at his colleagues, Nick Mallet and Naas Botha live on air. He accused the pair of racism and undermining him.

After a much-criticised, investigation Mallet and Botha were in June cleared of racism. SuperSport later announced Willemse would not be back on TV and his contract would be not be renewed.

In December, the Human Rights Commission announced that it would investigate allegations of racism at SuperSport.

Usain Bolt in football

Back on the athletics front, the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, hit the ground running in 2018 when he made known his intentions of playing professional football. Bolt trained with Mamelodi Sundowns but never impressed and failed to get a contract.

Bolt was back in the headlines in August in his quest to join a football side. This time when he joined Central Coast Mariners Football Club in Australia on trial. The lanky sportsman has seen some game time and it’s reported he will remain on trial at the club until January 2019 when a decision will be made whether he deserves a contract.

Closer to home,  Anaso Jobodwana, in March, brought South Africans to their feet after comfortably beating world 100m champion Justin Gatlin in a 150m race at the Athletix Grand Prix event in Pretoria. The following month in April, Akani Simbine gave Yohan Blake his back when he beat the Jamaican in the final of the 4x100m at the Commonwealth Games.

Staying in Africa, Kenyan long distance runner, Eliud Kipchoge broke the record at the Berlin Marathon, finishing in less than two hours and two minutes, cutting his own personal best by well over a minute in September.

Tennis – Naomi Osaka

Still in September, tennis star Serena Williams lost what could have been her 24th Grand Slam Championship, to unfancied, but yet talented Naomi Osaka.

However, the 20-year-old’s historic victory was overshadowed by controversy that surrounded the US Open final when Williams had a heated exchange of words with Umpire, Carlos Ramos.

Williams accused the umpire of sexism when he penalized her during the match, sparking debates about Ramos’ conduct and the treatment of female tennis players in contrast to how male tennis players are treated in the sport.

Still, September was not over yet before – who would have thought – Tiger Woods pulled off an improbable comeback when he won the Tour Championship. Thousands of his fans, who hadn’t had much to celebrate for some time, crowded him as he sealed his 80th PGA Tour win, marking the return of the Tiger.

Onto motoring, Lewis Hamilton officially stepped into the league of the best, with Michael Schumacher being the only driver to have won more world titles than Hamilton. This after Hamilton won his fifth world championship on Sunday, 28 October, to draw level with Juan Manuel Fangio in the Formula 1 record books.

2019 Africa Cup of Nations

The soccer year ended with a bang, despite Bafana Bafana’s failure to seal their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifications against Nigeria. This when Banyana Banyana qualified for their first ever FIFA World Cup and reached the finals of the women’s Afcon, despite losing to Nigeria in the final. Minnows Baroka FC against all odds went on to beat Orlando Pirates in the Telkom Knockout Final, to win their first-ever silver medal.

While a loss to Nigeria meant Bafana Bafana would pin their hopes on beating Libya in their final qualification match in March, CAF might just throw a lifeline to the sub-standard SA men’s team. CAF have  the ‘back door’ ajar for the team following the announcement that South Africa (Morocco is the other) was one of the countries considered to host the Afcon 2019, following Cameroon’s failure to be ready to host.

Should South Africa be awarded the rights to host, Bafana Bafana will gain automatic qualification as hosts. CAF is expected to make the decision in January 2019. – By Sipho King K Kekana