Government plans to ‘nationalise’ all sporting bodies

Government catches administrators off guard, risks the country being banned

Government has published a draft bill which will “nationalise” all sporting bodies such as SA Rugby, Cricket SA and Athletics SA, a move that could also see the minister of sport being directly involved in team selection.

The bill is so expansive that it even includes some sort of national service for athletes and the power to jail sports people for certain offences.

It also proposes to transfer nearly all the powers currently held by sporting bodies to a deputy director-general of the department of sport and recreation.

The Amendment Bill on Sport and Recreation, published just before Christmas, has caught the country’s sports administrators off guard.

Kobus Marais, a board member of the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), said if the bill was passed in its current form, South Africa would be kicked out of the Olympics because the international body bans organisations if governments interfere in the running of sports.

Gay Mokoena, acting chief executive officer of Safa, predicted that there would be problems with soccer’s international governing body, Fifa.

Mokoena said he had learnt of the bill when City Press’ sister publication Rapport enquired about it.

However, Sumayya Khan, acting director-general of the department of sports, recreation and culture, said it was not true that the minister wanted to take over the running of all sports.

“The minister only wants to create a mechanism so that he can intervene by instituting investigations without interfering in the [sports’ daily administration].”

Khan said government would abide by the rules of international sporting bodies.

The minister only wants to create a mechanism so that he can intervene by instituting investigations without interfering in the [sports’ daily administration].
Sumayya Khan, acting director-general of the department of sports

“There are just too many sporting federations getting involved in court cases. We are looking for a way to get involved by handling disputes internally,” she said.

But various role players in sports differed sharply with this interpretation.

Among them was the South African academic who was lauded for resigning from the disciplinary tribunal of the IAAF in protest over the testosterone regulations widely believed to have been aimed at superstar athlete Caster Semenya.

Professor Steve Cornelius, a sport law expert at the University of Pretoria, said there was no doubt that the bill placed the minister in control of all sports.

“In terms of current legislation, there is a process of escalation before the minister can interfere. When there is a dispute in sport, Sascoc is the body designated to handle it before the minister can interfere,” Cornelius said.

The new bill allows for the minister’s direct interference.

The consequences of this are very serious.
Professor Steve Cornelius, a sport law expert

According to Marais, the draft bill strips Sascoc of all its powers.

“The minister will be able to directly interfere in the administration of all sports governing bodies and will even be put in control of the selection of sportsmen and sportswomen.

“The consequences of this are very serious.

“[The IOC and Fifa] will not hesitate to suspend local sports federations if the minister is allowed to interfere directly in sport, as proposed by the amendment bill,” said Marais.

He said the bill took away the powers of sporting federations while putting extra obligations on them.

“It comes down to the nationalisation of sports, without the state providing any funding for it. It is outrageous.”

The new body within the department, Sport and Recreation SA, will also have the final say on whether or not sports people qualify for national colours.

Netball SA and SA Rugby referred questions to Cornelius when approached for comment on the proposed bill.

Government has been suggesting that it wants more control over sports for some time.

In July, Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the demographics of the national teams must change to improve “nation building”.

In a response to a parliamentary question from Bhekizizwe Luthuli, an IFP member of Parliament, Mthethwa warned that associations could be punished if they did not meet their targets.

DA spokesperson on sports, called the bill “shocking” and “nothing less than the nationalisation of sport”

His predecessor, Tokozile Xasa, previously said that the “punishment” could include the withdrawal of funding, their recognition as sporting governing bodies, banning the associations from hosting international tournaments and preventing the sporting bodies from awarding national colours.

Each one of these threats, to a greater or lesser extent, is included in the draft bill.

Tsepo Mhlongo, DA spokesperson on sports, called the bill “shocking” and “nothing less than the nationalisation of sport”.

“It contravenes most Olympic codes, including the codes of the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee,” Mhlongo said.

Scott Schreuder, chairperson of the Register of Exercise Professionals SA (Repsa), said attempts by the minister of sport to regulate the fitness industry through a regulatory authority were “unnecessary”.

“We have been self-regulating since 2011 and 89% of all fitness instructors are registered with Repsa. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to us that the minister now wants to take over our role,” Schreuder said.

He said gyms already had to comply with various building, health, zoning and municipal regulations, adding that it did not make any sense for the minister to duplicate these requirements.

The bill will be open for comment until February 28.

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