SA's sporting shame

2008-09-01 00:00

Whether heads will roll following South Africa’s scandalously below-par performance in the Beijing Olympics in China will be a test of the concept of accountability. South Africa’s 131-strong Olympic team, the largest in its history, returned home with just one silver medal. South Africa finished 71st on the final medals table and eighth among the African countries, beaten even by Zimbabwe.

The root cause of this must be Athletics South Africa’s (ASA) shambolic administration, which has been going on for a long time. Yet, there has been a deafening silence from the benchwarmers in Parliament’s committee on sport about this. Last year Athletics South Africa president Leonard Chuene was given a bonus for a job “done well”.

Some time ago the Sunday Times reported that ASA CEO Banele Sindani allegedly awarded himself a loan of almost R175 000 without bothering to ask the board overseeing the sporting body. The parliamentary sports committee does not appear overly enthusiastic to probe ASA. There is no indication yet from them about passports being withdrawn from those found guilty. Earlier this year chairman of

Parliament’s sports committee Butana Komphela raced to the defence of Chuene, labelling efforts to bring him to account as a “witch-hunt”.

South Africa’s Parliament is at risk of becoming a circus. The old tradition of school sports in black schools has all but collapsed because of a lack of resources and government support. Most sporting clubs in townships have also closed down. School and club facilities are crumbling.

Yet real transformation is about getting millions, not a handful, of black South Africans introduced to sport, from primary school onwards, with support from the government, the private sector and individuals who want to give something back to their community. This is what real grass-roots transformation is all about, not the jingoistic attacks on getting perfect quotas in national sports. Mass grass-roots expansion of every sport code in the widest way possible, with the involvement of the largest range of people, is what the country needs.

Given South Africa’s mountain of social and economic problems, the country must embark on a wide-ranging effort, on every conceivable front, to develop its human resources. Piecemeal efforts or trickle efforts at development will not only be foolish, but will risk the continuing social upheavals of the marginalised. Sport is one of the fronts that must be tapped in order to lift significant numbers of poor South Africans out of poverty, marginalisation and exclusion.

To think of economic upliftment only in terms of giving someone a job is just small-minded and short-sighted. South Africa could, on a massive scale, target every township, rural and inner-city child with sporting talent and provide them with support, including life and social skills.

White former sportsmen and women could get involved in training at this grass-roots level. The awarding of the 2010 Soccer World Cup should have been an opportunity to set up football academies all across the country and create a mass soccer movement, where millions of poor young children could be developed.

Businesses could have poured money into the grass-roots development, upgrading infrastructure, community soccer clinics and academies and junior leagues, instead of putting millions into the pockets of unscrupulous South African Football Association administrators. What a missed opportunity.

Australia dedicatedly used sport to great effect not only for nation-building, but also to create a competitive brand for the country as a whole, which will serve as an magnet for investment, jobs and tourism.

Most of South Africa’s current sports administrators appear spectacularly useless, seemingly in it solely for their personal enrichment. A case in point is soccer, with the national team nose-diving into decline mostly because of corrupt, incompetent and selfish administrations. With such people running soccer, why is everybody blaming the national coaches when Bafana Bafana perform abysmally?

Last week former Bafana Bafana player Shaun Bartlett, who came home to retire after a glittering career abroad, said that he is considering quitting rather than suffering more depression over the way in which the local league is administered.

There is no grass-roots development, no new sporting academies, no junior leagues and the U23 soccer team did not even qualify for the Beijing Olympics, but there has been no action from Parliament’s sports committee.

The success of France, Italy and recently Spain in the international soccer arena has been to do with a system of rigorous soccer academies, from primary school and community level to senior teams. South Africa wants instant success.

Sporting success, as in any other arena, involves a lot of hard work, vision, planning and inclusiveness, which are all ingredients that appear to be missing in both sporting and political administration in South Africa.

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