Want a voice? Use your vote

2008-07-04 00:00

MORE than most South Africans identify with the democratic value of “one man, one vote”. It is a principle that many paid the highest price to have enshrined in our Constitution. Similarly, there is an unwritten understanding that sport, and the administration of sport, should be focused on the player and athlete.

Ironically, the traditional structure of sport in most federations favours the opinions of administrators over the views of players. Players’ and athletes’ input is limited to club level, where annually they may elect a committee to handle admin.

Communication between players and committees is frequently limited to post-race and bar-room chatter. It is not surprising that the views, innovations and needs of players are often diluted or lost between election meetings.

Moving up the hierarchy, it is the club committees that form the voters’ roll for provincial elections, while the provincial structure makes the representation at national elections. The vote of the active participant is diminished and the administrative voice enhanced at each successive level. Is it surprising that so many players across all sports complain of an administrative structure that appears oblivious to their needs? It is a situation famously highlighted by English rugby captain Will Carling, when he complained about the “the 12 old farts” of the Rugby Football Union.

Athletics has a distinct advantage given that road-running often provides committee members with regular participation, albeit with a less competitive agenda. Even so, sporting federations can only benefit from and act upon the views of the players if each province, club and individual member fulfils the responsibilities on which this rather idealistic structure is founded.

Perhaps worthy of review in an age in which one-on-one communication is easier and quicker, the structure remains for now and is the founding principle for the upcoming KZN Athletics general meeting.

Being Olympics year, the meeting features the four-yearly elections, making participation from all subsidiary levels even more critical as nominations, motions and decisions shape the direction for the next four years.

It is no secret that leading athletes have met in recent months to air concerns, gain clarity and motivate changes. The challenge is to transfer this into motions, decisions and actions by the incoming administration. Players have no direct representation at the meeting. Even among the nine specialised standing committees of the KZN Athletics constitution, there is no mention of an athletes’ committee.

Athletic club members meet to discuss their concerns, which are taken forward to provincial level by mandated members. Clubs that can be represented by their chairperson and one other person each have a vote.

We are already into the 60-day countdown to the general meeting and it would be interesting to learn how many clubs had an open meeting to discuss concerns and whom the chairperson should nominate. With nominations and motions now in the hands of the provincial office, documentation is due to be returned to club secretaries for further open meetings. This is the presumed democracy of most sporting constitutions, which even in idealistic terms falls short of the “one man, one vote” principle.

In reality, idealism is replaced by pragmatism. In many cases the nominations will have come directly from club committees. It is not unknown for the two club representatives to be left to make their own judgment on how to vote.

More alarming still is the level of participation, where sub-quorum turnouts have seen AGMs being rescheduled. It was Pietermaritzburg clubs and athletes’ objections to the unconstitutional timing and administration of the quarterly general meeting planned for May 31 that rightly resulted in its rescheduling to August 23 in the hope of better member interaction, attendance and input.

Clubs face additional penalties when they fail to be represented at general meetings. The constitution prevents that club from having a vote at any other meeting that season.

The combination of club representatives, elected members and commissions is the highest body in the structure. It is this body that should determine the future of the sport, and instruct and receive reports from the executive and president. If clubs fail to give those instructions, then it is inappropriate for them to complain about the way the sport is being run.

With notification of motions, nominations and agendas due to drop into everyone’s mailbox, clubs will hopefully be setting their open member meetings.

Having a vote and a voice is one thing — carrying the responsibility to use it correctly is another. Each club member, each committee member, each person elected provincially and the administrative office is obliged to participate if the sport is to truly represent the athletes and adopt genuine grassroot mandates. This is the only way for our sport to improve; are you doing your part?

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