Govt and SAFA 'sexy' partners
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
In the cogs of government, the sports ministry is hardly at the forefront of the machinery that runs our daily lives. It is at best a 'junior' portfolio.
But it is a 'sexy' one because of the disproportional attention it receives. In a sports-mad country like South Africa, to be sports minister is an instant ticket to wider fame, press exposure and public renown. Much more than far more important portfolios, like housing, local government or even health.
Sports minister Fikile Mbalula, according to the political analysts we read daily on the serious pages of our newspapers, is a man for the future. A potential president in years to come; a 'young gun' full of ambition, verve and fire. To have been given the sports ministry in the last cabinet reshuffle must have been a Godsend to his political ambitions, dramatically pushing up his profile.
Since taking on the job, he has also wasted no time in displaying his energy. He gets around, with the cameras and reporters’ pen not far behind.
Last year he instituted a long-needed formal Sports Star of the Year award to finally ensure our best athletes gets proper recognition. He spent an obscene amount of money on a gala dinner at Sun City, with international stars to cuddle up to, music and film celebrities to have pictures taken with and all the bling and glamour that many South Africans seem to find so appealing these days.
Mbalula has also figured out nothing drives the publicity better than football. He has flirted with cricket and rugby but not got the headlines that come with pronouncements on the country’s favourite past time.
But it is a tricky business for any minister to become too embroiled with football because the independence of soccer is at the cornerstone of the game’s statutes.
Government interference is not tolerated and when it occurs sees FIFA impose harsh measures to the detriment of the entire country.
In other African countries it is be easier to manipulate, because government funds most of the football association’s activities and therefore there is an uneasy co-operation, even a master-servant relationship.
Cameroon football, for example, is always in crisis because of the power struggle between the sports minister and the FA president. In Zambia, government pays the coach and so often, but not always, decides who they want in charge of the national teams. Beggars cannot be choosers.
But SAFA have always had a financial autonomy and been able to keep the government at arm’s length. In the days of Solomon 'Stix' Morewa, SAFA treated ministers almost with disdain. They were lucky if they got a free VIP pass to a Bafana game. But the relationship had to become cozier once South Africa bid to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
But Mbalula must beware of trying too hard to surf the soccer wave. His planned ‘investigation’ into SAFA’s administration, that has dominated headlines in recent days, is a dangerous gamble that could backfire.
SAFA administration might be weak, its leaders too often flying around unnecessarily in first class like heads of state and its national team coach guilty of a monumental mistake that he should have resigned in embarrassment for, but to now suddenly demand ‘explanations’ and ‘meetings’ is interfering with the game’s independence.
It is only SAFA’s membership who is empowered to sort out its workings, decide whether to keep its leaders and make a decision on whether Pitso Mosimane should stay or go. It has nothing to do with government.
The sports ministry’s priority should be to ensure facilities for the country’s youth and give every talented South African sports person an opportunity to be the world’s best.
Those millions spent at Sun City last year could have paid for training camps, pitches, courts and pools across the country. Why has no one ‘investigated’ that?
Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.
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