Pro football freestyler and champion Ashley ‘Floorise’ Mkhize is gearing up to bring the South Africa Freestyle Football Championship to the live stage after a covid-19 induced hiatus.
By: Thanduxolo ‘Thandz’ Buti
Images: Courtesy of Ashley Mkhize
Mkhize is delighted to share that they will be hosting their first freestyling championship live event in two years, to be held on 27 August at Maponya Mall, after the pandemic forced them to move online. Freestyle Football is the art of performing impressive tricks using a soccer ball.
“Bring it [the championship] back has not been a train-smash because we were established, in some way,” he tells Blacklight. “The only issue was trying to bring in old sponsors and get new ones, as well. Luckily our old sponsors were happy to continue with us. We are still working with Hi-Tech, Ballgame, and longtime partner, the WFFA (World Freestyle Football Association).”
The competition is open to all freestylers who have the skill, and for the first time, players from neighbouring countries, including Mozambique and Zambia. This year’s prize is the title of Freestyle Football Champ and prizes valued at over R10 000.
Previous winners include two-time champion Sipho Busakwe (2019 and 2020) and Jabu Mdaka (2021).
Watch highlights from the Football Freestyle Championship 2019:
Mkhize is easily the most recognizable freestyler in Africa. He has been blazing a trail, breaking records and winning championships locally and internationally. He now serves as the head of freestyle football in Southern Africa at the WFFA. He launched the freestyling championship to help carve a space for the next generation of freestylers.
The freestyler is still recovering from the blow of covid-19, which meant no live performances.
“You don’t recover from certain things,” he says about the impact of the pandemic on his career. “How do you recover or recoup three years’ worth of money and opportunities? You don’t; you move on.
“You can only take away what you learned during the pandemic: the new ways of doing business and using the online space (content creation).”
The pandemic forced many sports events to migrate online, and football freestyling was no exception. Now they have found a way to integrate the online experience into the championship.
This year, the players who can’t make it to the Johannesburg event can participate online. Participants can submit video clips of their freestyle performance for judgment.
Despite his successful reign as a football freestyle champ, Mkhize notes there is still a long way to go before the sport reaches its full potential in Africa.
“Covid-19 hampered the progress of freestyling, but it’s grown online. It’s a 50/50 because you also need to move from online and have live events on real stages. People love consistency, but we had to stop for a minute. The growth is gradual.”
Football freestyling is also still not recognized as a sport in South Africa. In fact, it’s hardly recognized at all and is viewed as a hobby or extra curriculum activity. Mkhize says programs like the championship are vital as they help bring some form of legitimacy to the sport.
“Funny enough, in South Africa, dancing was not recognised till it made it to the Olympics. Breakdancing and skateboarding are also now recognised at the Olympics. So some sports are overlooked until they get recognised internationally. It’s a long journey, but we start with a few steps,” he explains.
“We are building all these programs and competitions to make it easier for the kids to explain this sport to their families. When they see that there are championships and competitions, people can find significance in it.”
Young freestylers face incredible challenges while trying to penetrate the world of freestyle. Mkhize says many still struggle with sports equipment, travelling resources and lack of support from family. Despite these tests, a large stream of young people are profusely pursuing the sport as a career.
“The young freestylers are coming in numbers,” he says. “Now it’s about inspiring them with a consistent platform so they can play and perform. In any sport, the athlete needs a space that informs them where and when to compete and different platforms that help them grow as athletes.”
The sport also needs more access to sponsorships and financial resources to help elevate them to the next level. Mkhize believes this would help launch programs for the youth who want to be professional freestylers.
“We want to develop the sport and create opportunities for youth players. And we need youth tournaments that are only open to the youth. Most freestyling competitions are open to everyone [all ages], and you find someone young and starting, competing with someone older who has been freestyling for ten years or more. We need different competitions with various categories,” he explains.
Mkhize is proud that they have already given opportunities to a few freestylers since launching the championship. He says the programme has helped young freestylers improve their skills and given them a chance to travel and compete internationally. This has helped improve the sport. But he still insists that the love for the sport is what can help it get its long overdue breakthrough.
“I always tell young freestylers to love the sport with all their hearts and to be determined. Don’t be influenced by things like fame because you need to push yourself and practice every day. There are no teams or coaches here; it’s usually just you and the ball.”
The freestyler has genuinely evolved and now juggles competing with being an entrepreneur and giving back to the game. He says being a chameleon has helped him attain longevity in the field.
“I have learned to adapt to different situations. And you have to impart all the knowledge to the next generation. I have learned about the sport from a competitor’s point of view, the administration, and behind the scenes. I also have to try and solve all the challenges that young freelancers face within the sport.
He continues: “I love the sport. I have been freelancing for about ten – eleven years. I always used to say that I want to create platforms in the sport even when I am no longer competing as a way to give back. That keeps me going because the sport opened many doors for me.”