Sport and politics don't swim

2009-04-14 13:12
Sport24 columnist Roland Schoeman (File)
Roland Schoeman

A couple of weeks ago I was being hounded by a political party to ‘visibly’ show my support for its cause. The more I offered legitimate reasons for not being at a planned event, the more ‘yes buts’ were sent my way. The whole process restarted the old question in my head – ‘should we really be mixing politics and sport’.

Since then it has become clear that I haven’t been the only person grappling with this issue. We had the Dalai Lama refused entry into South Africa to attend the Peace Conference with the excuse (essentially) that politics and sport don’t mix (his presence would detract from 2010).

The irony of this explanation was that it actually served to introduce politics into sport. Our Bok coach Peter de Villiers has been both lauded and vilified for introducing politics into sport when he decided to publicly endorse the ANC. There has been an absolute outcry about the COPE adverts at the cricket. The list goes on and on.

Uncomfortably, I needed to ask myself if I wasn’t guilty of double standards myself in terms of the argument that politics and sport shouldn’t mix. Hadn't personally asked the Ministry of Sport to launch a Commission of Enquiry into Swimming South Africa in an attempt to ensure that we would go into the last Olympics with a chance of winning medals?

So what do I really want? Well actually that’s quite easy. I want the problems related to sport solved. I and most others in the sports fraternity want a system that will be efficient in identifying and nurturing talented athletes. Furthermore, we want a system that will provide an environment supportive of this talent through state of the art coaching and cutting edge science and technology. 

Plainly and simply politics with its talk shops, posturing and individual agenda’s dressed up as collective agendas can not and will not solve the real problems we have in sport. So sport isn’t or shouldn’t be a political agenda item. It is a good governance agenda item. Politics only enters the process when there is a void left by the absence of good governance. Therefore, all our time and energy should be going into ensuring that sufficient resources are allocated to promoting good governance on all levels, including sport.

Recruit the right expertise

In their blog about sport, Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas put it this way: “In the world of elite sport, you are either doing whatever is required to win, or you are likely to lose. But in South Africa we've failed on three accounts. No one has made a firm decision, no one has committed the necessary level of support (plenty of talk goes around), and no one has bothered to recruit the right expertise at the expense of vested interests and financial incentives. Politics and other personal incentives take precedence, and the result is that sporting federations are still amateur, sports science is 15 years behind the rest of the world (sports science means more than a finger-prick lactate and VO2max test), and the athletes are permanently competing against professionals with little hope of success politics overrides excellence.

Mondli Makhanya in an article about South African politics offers the Chinese proverb which states that he “who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself”. 

It is well known that I and the other South African swimmers have had more than our fair share of problems and battles with Swimming South Africa over the past years. Central to this has been the question of good governance. Very little has been changed by these arguments apart from the fact that we have collectively lost more than we have gained.

Isn’t it time we changed that?  Isn’t it time we claimed collective power and worked together to find solutions to the specific problems that we have? 

During this coming week I will be competing at the South African National Championships in Durban. I am committed to entering into purposeful discussions and actions with Swimming South Africa and its sponsors during this time with the specific aim of promoting good governance and the collective good of those involved in swimming. To this end I nail my colours to the mast. Let us have discussions, plans AND actions around the central challenge of becoming a winning swimming nation by design rather than by default.

Roland is a multiple Olympic medal winner... and an avid Blue Bulls supporter.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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