Mind games: Note to sports officials: Come out of hiding, or quit your jobs

2014-08-26 13:45

‘Officious officials’ – the term used to have a nice ring to it. But these days sports administrators are anything but.

They may still be self-important, but they are no longer meddlesome, outspoken or bossy in the manner of Abdul Bhamjee, Trevor “The British Bulldog” Phillips or Louis Luyt. In fact, these days it seems the titles and trappings are everything, and the cares and responsibilities nowt.

Last week I was asked to write what the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) would term a “multicode” article on Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula’s proposed levy on ­tickets. The topic reminded me how poorly sports bodies communicate.

In my primary sport of rugby, office bearers, the CEO and others who can provide information on an issue are shielded behind a well-staffed “communications” department.

SA Rugby Union (Saru) President Oregan Hoskins is never available for personal discussion. CEO Jurie Roux has instituted off-the-record briefings with the rugby media, but hasn’t ­accepted any interview requests since he took office in 2010.

Saru is a prolific disseminator of press releases. Unlike the old days, however, when Doc Craven answered his own phone, one now has to email queries and wait for carefully constructed replies.

On Saru’s website you won’t find the executives listed, what they’re responsible for and their contact details, and none of the communications team is there. We newspaper people know the way through the labyrinth, but what of the public, a sports body’s most important constituency?

Despite the fancy websites and ­highly paid communications officials, getting a comment from sports bodies is like trying to draw water from a rock.

I trawled some websites, and first I will say kudos to Mbalula. On the department of sport and recreation website, the minister’s own page contains the following line: “For media enquiries regarding the minister, please contact?...” with a name and cell number.

Sascoc has pictures of the board, but no information – just a general “Contact Us” – including for head honcho, Tubby Reddy.

Cricket SA at least lists executive and nonexecutive directors, but gives no clue what their portfolios are or how to get in touch with them. Through my contacts, I managed to talk to their communications manager, but a website query remains unacknowledged.

It’s the same for the PSL’s website. But if you mine it a bit, you’ll find names of the executive committee. Still, though, there are no contact ­details. Safa doesn’t even have a contact button – certainly not one that jumps out at you.

Tennis SA lists names and contact ­details for provincial bodies, but not board members. It lists some staff, but no CEO or communications person and I’ve still to get a reply via Contact Us. So too with Swimming SA and the ­Sunshine Tour.

It’s as if these organisations don’t want to be contacted or have something to hide.

What is astonishing is that in this day and age, the most senior officers don’t seem to realise they are meant to be the communicators, to tell the story and answer the questions.

What is needed is for sports bodies to take a leaf from former US president Harry S Truman and have a button or icon on their websites saying: “The buck stops here” – one you can click on when you need an answer.

In fact, a good few other South African organisations could do with that.

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