Q&A: James Evans comes out guns blazing

2013-07-07 14:01

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Timothy Molobi speaks to the Athletics South Africa president

How do you feel about the character assassination you have been subjected to?

It has been hurtful. As a lawyer, it obviously affects how people view my integrity.

But at the same time, I am aware that thinking people will ask why, if I had done anything wrong, were proper charges not brought in a proper forum, instead of thrown around at press conferences.

The issue now is that I can never get a fair trial, as the allegations have been bandied about so publicly. Not one allegation was ever tested before being made and yet the media repeated it as proven fact.

What concerns me more is the future of this country, when the media are so easily duped into merely repeating other people’s smear tactics without question.

I sometimes wonder about the allegations I hear against the country’s leaders. Even the apartheid era media had more credibility. Freedom of expression is one thing; freedom of unproven slander is another thing entirely.

This is an issue the media bosses need to deal with. When their reporters act as savages they must not be surprised when the government and the public start calling for greater regulation.

In your opinion, who is behind this smear campaign and why?

Probably those in athletics who realised they cannot win at the ballot box. After three elections in three years brought out the same result, they could not risk another vote, so they ran to the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) with wild and false allegations. Unfortunately, Sascoc seemed to have been all too willing to listen.

What are the real reasons people do not want you to be in charge of Athletics South Africa (ASA)?

There are certain people in the sport who are corrupt and have a lot to hide. They have to be aware that I am not scared to expose them.

There are several people who hid behind Leonard (Chuene, former ASA president) and then stabbed him in the back to create positions for themselves. They were unhappy when they could not march into a vacant position.

Are you a threat to some people. If so, why?

I am not shy about taking on corrupt people and practices. I had similar issues in Western Province Athletics (WPA), with people unwilling to be challenged about what they were doing.

I am happy to say that when I stood down as president of WPA we had a clean audit and a strong office running the administration.

Of course, the people who were the cause of the previous mayhem have all moved on. The ones who are still involved at a national level probably feared that happening to them as well.

How is your relationship with Sascoc?

Well, they suspended us, didn’t they? I can’t recall us walking away from them, they pushed us away.

What is your own understanding of Sascoc’s role in sports in the country?

It should be to support the federations and assist in developing a strong Team SA brand. I am not sure they are achieving that.

Why is it that many federations have encountered problems with Sascoc, for example, the SA Football Association (Safa), ASA and Powerboat SA?

It could be that Sascoc have misinterpreted their role. The structure itself does not necessarily lead to conflict.

Therefore, it must be the implementation of the structure which is the problem.

In my experience, Sascoc is the only organisation of its nature which deals with people other than via its federations and which ignores the elected structures when it deals with federations. It is a concern.

It is also a source of concern when the National Olympic Committee is at loggerheads with so many international bodies.

They should be our diplomatic service. No one wants to see a return to sporting isolation, especially when it is due to undiplomatic behaviour, rather than as a means to show solidarity with the oppressed.

Is Sascoc bullying federations?

When the president of Sascoc repeatedly talks of using a sjambok on federations, I am not sure what he is trying to achieve.

In my eyes, I see a riot policeman wanting to beat up unarmed civilians. Maybe he has another interpretation. I am not sure the violent imagery is appropriate if one is trying to promote cooperative governance.

Does Sascoc, or certain people within Sascoc, misunderstand their roles?

I can only answer that by saying that I was surprised to find it relying on the National Sport and Recreation Act prior to its amendment in 2008 and misreading or misinterpreting other statutes upon which it is founded.

I was also worried when I heard it being said that it will not be threatened by the IAAF. International federations don’t threaten. If you don’t play by their rules they tell you to play by yourself. There is only one loser in those battles.

Do we have relevant people running Sascoc?

I am not sure I can answer that. I suppose the answer is in how much conflict there is in South African sport.

What are the challenges facing your administration?

We inherited three main problems: a weak financial position, absolutely no policies or sustainable structures, and an organisation that has not taken the step into a modern international sporting environment.

The absence of a development framework, coaching structures, etc, can all be traced back to these three problems.

Who can solve athletics’ problems?

Only athletics people. Not only is this the IAAF rule, but we have seen twice now that people from outside the sport, no matter how well intentioned, have no chance of organising the sport or solving its problems if they don’t understand it. Athletics is not football or cricket.

It is an open secret that the ASA board is divided. Why is this so and what have you done to resolve the impasse?

There have been differences of opinion in the past. Those with leadership qualities will always be able to work past those differences.

There were behind-the-scenes steps being taken to work around the differences.

Without outside interference, they would have been solved. I am sure we will soon see who are the board members with leadership ability and those who are merely there for the power and the title. Unfortunately, they will get left behind.

I am convinced that, given space, the majority of the board can work together. I never give up on trying to solve a problem.

How do you intend getting the organisation back on track?

First, we need to be sure that the interference has stopped. We then need to strengthen our financial position and get our constitution sorted out.

Then we need to concentrate on modernising our athletics programme, training more coaches, and generally upskilling everyone involved in the sport. The more people we have and the more opportunities we create, the less relevant the people who want to drag us down become.

Do you think you have been wrongly accused?

Yes. Despite allegations being thrown around since February, not one piece of evidence has been produced.

The recent round of vicious allegations were again made at a press conference and not in a hearing where they could be tested.

After five months of allegations and no evidence, we can safely assume that none exists. Quite frankly, it is surprising any gives the allegations any credibility any more after such a long time without any proof.

Why did you report Sascoc to the IAAF?

I was obliged to advise them as to what had happened. Our obligations are to them and our athletes. I was amazed to find that it was not until after the IAAF wrote to them that Sascoc saw fit to tell the IAAF what it had done.

How were they hoping to operate on a international level if they were not even communicating with the international federation?

Were you happy with the outcome?

I have to confess to have been surprised at the tone of the IAAF letter. They are normally quite conservative in their responses to these situations. They were brutally straightforward, to the extent that it is difficult to understand what Sascoc misunderstood.

Quite simply, they won’t tolerate interference from the outside. If Sascoc had respected the letter when they received it on June 5, it is unlikely the situation would have gotten this far.

Where to now for James Evans?

I will continue to do what is right. We were elected as a board until 2016 and we should be given the chance to fulfil our mandate.

As much as there may have been differences on the board, I will defend them as much as myself against opportunists who seek to remove them so that they can have an unhindered path to power they cannot achieve through elections.

Judge us after four years. We have suffered just on a year of continuous interference from the outside. Give us space to sort out the problems and you will see how strong athletics will be in South Africa.

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