Super Rugby

EXCLUSIVE: Why SuperSport said the Willemse incident wasn’t racist

Cape Town - A technical failure on set that led to SuperSport presenter Motshidisi Mohono not giving former Springbok Ashwin Willemse a chance to speak lies at the heart of Willemse’s dramatic on-air flare-up, Sport24 can reveal.

READ: SuperSport, MultiChoice: No racism in Willemse drama

At a meeting on Monday between the heads of SuperSport, MultiChoice and presenters Mohono, Willemse, Nick Mallett and Naas Botha it was disclosed that a pre-game segment prior to the Lions v Brumbies match was cut down from ten to three minutes without Mohono’s prior knowledge.

Sport24 has spoken to four sources with direct knowledge of the fallout after Willemse walked off set. Willemse, Mallett and Botha have declined to comment after Monday’s meeting.

Willemse’s on-air comments that he would no longer be “patronised by two individuals who played in an apartheid/segregated era” has led to a nationwide debate about how black people are treated in the workplace.

The reasons why SuperSport CEO Gideon Khobane and MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela announced after the meeting that race did not play a role in the incident can now for the first time be revealed.

According to Sport24’s sources, this was the chronology of events that led to Willemse’s dramatic walkout:

· Willemse, Botha and Mallett were all part of the panel that commented on the Lions game (that started at 17:15) as well as the prior game between the Sharks and the Chiefs that started at 15:05.

· Prior to the Sharks game, Mallett and Willemse took up most of the time analysing the teams before kick-off.

· After the Sharks game, all three former Springboks got an opportunity to analyse the game. All three commentators and Mohono wear earpieces through which the producer of the show give instructions.

· At 17:05 the pre-game analysis of the Lions game started, with Mohono telling her guests they would have ten minutes to talk about the game before kick-off.

· Both Mallett and Botha took approximately 90 seconds each to speak about Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies who played in his 100th Super Rugby game.

· After three minutes, the discussion was cut-short without Mohono’s prior knowledge and before she could give Willemse an opportunity to speak.

· Mohono and her guests were all shocked that their segment was cut down from ten to three minutes, before she could ask Willemse’s views. It was disclosed that she and her guests couldn’t hear the producer count down through their earpieces.

· After they were cut short, Botha turned to Willemse and said: “Sorry Ash that you didn’t get a chance to speak”. Willemse did not react and they proceeded to watch the Lions game.

· While they were off-air, Mallett asked the producer and Mohono to go to Willemse first after the game because he did not have a chance to speak prior to the game.

· Willemse walked in-and-out of the studio during the Lions game. A claim on social media that Willemse did not watch the game at all was rubbished by SuperSport, who told Sport24 there was “nothing out of the ordinary about his shift”. He went for smoke breaks and bathroom visits during the game.

· During the half-time analysis of the Lions match, Willemse participated in the on-air discussion.

· After the game, before going on air, Botha said to Willemse: “it’s all yours” and laughed. Sources with knowledge of the dynamic between the presenters told Sport24 it was not an unusual tone for Botha to take. “Three-quarters of the time they are joking with each other.”

· When they went on air, Mohono went straight to Willemse for post-match analysis. Willemse proceeded to ask Botha for his views, until Mallett stepped in and gave his analysis. When Mohono went back to Willemse, he had his flare-up and walked off.

At Monday’s meeting behind closed doors, Willemse said he was triggered by Botha’s comment “it’s all yours” followed by laughing.

Sport24 understands that Mallett and Willemse had heated interactions during the meeting, which ended with all participants agreeing that racism wasn’t the cause of the incident.

However, at some point during the meeting, Willemse said he “accepted that you (the other participants) decided that it was not racism”. But Willemse finally agreed with the outcome.

At SuperSport, it is openly being speculated that Willemse was “trying to launch his political career”.

After Monday’s meeting, that SuperSport described as “positive and cordial”, the channel announced that it has “requested all parties that we continue with a deeper engagement process to confront the complex issues which our past has thrust upon the workplace”.

All the parties have agreed.

It is unclear whether Willemse had officially complained to the channel about Mallett and Botha or if he plans to open further racism charges with a statutory or constitutional body.

By Thursday, there had been no confirmation regarding when the next meeting between the three analysts would take place, although they are all expected to be in the studio together on Saturday to resume Super Rugby business as usual.

When asked about the technical error, a SuperSport spokesperson said they could not comment because doing so might compromise the ongoing investigation.