Other Sport

Fikile: The Grinch who stole sport?

2016-04-26 12:53

Cape Town – Big call, Mr Minister.

Although it may prove difficult to properly gauge, it would be instructive to learn the weight of public opinion, in our doggedly sports-mad country, in favour of Fikile Mbalula’s shuddering announcement on Monday that SA Rugby, Cricket South Africa, Athletics South Africa and others are banned from bidding for major tournaments due to the slow pace of transformation.

As the Minister of Sport, isn’t it only an inadvertent concession to his own inadequacies, in many senses, that he has deemed it necessary to take such an extreme course of action?

Isn’t it on his very leadership beat – he has been in the portfolio since November 2010, a reasonably marathon stint – that change has been as sluggish as he perceives it to be? That all-important grassroots developmental structures have either been absent or under-delivering and at least a partial trigger of failure?

Or does he believe himself to be haughtily above culpability for shortcomings; a wobbly cannon with the right to blast a salvo on a whim?

There is much that makes little sense in the volatile South African political landscape these days, and although he probably wishes to be seen as the astute turkey that finally didn’t vote for the festive season, he may be more at risk than he has given proper thought to of becoming branded by sports-lovers the new Grinch who stole Christmas.

Transformation is a serious issue, an objective that is noble and necessary in our still painstakingly healing country.

It also requires responsibility, delicacy, goodwill across the board and deftness in its application, and frankly when you listen to some of Mbabula’s many public utterances and the rambling, sometimes fruitcake press statements from his department you are left to wonder whether he is the most fitting custodian of that complex task.

He is not averse to tossing curveballs, and certainly appears to have caught several of the administrative bodies in question more than a little unawares with his autocratic-sounding, self-important verboten decree.

Make no mistake, the step will put a rocket up some posteriors, and in that respect we may even see a constructive shift away from poor implementation or outright apathy and complacency in transformation terms.

I am not wholly writing off the possibility that good comes of it.

Major events mean big money, and with Mbalula suddenly imperilling them left, right and centre, the organisations will be scrambling first to decode the full extent of his statements – historically this can be a challenge in itself, given his cavalier and eccentric tendencies – and then to fathom precisely what they need to do in response.

My reservations centre more around the suddenness and sweeping nature of his actions.

Crucially, perhaps, it doesn’t seem as though they were preceded by any meaningful consultation with the federations affected; any forewarning of his plans that might even have triggered constructive shock treatment in some instances.

Then there is the pivotal issue, I think, of whether pulling the plug on major sports events for our shores is really the way to go as a punitive measure for apparent tardiness of domestic transformation.

Did Mbalula pause properly to consider the bigger picture?

I would argue that right now South Africa, with its bilious economy and increasing areas of other concern, instability and damaging publicity, needs the shot in the arm of major sports jamborees – especially those with a fighting chance of financial success -- far more than the remainder of the world needs us for hosting duties.

By effectively saying, as he did on Monday, that the country may not be open for business due to internal issues we are hardly sending out a powerful message of hungry candidacy or allure – present or future -- for World Cups and the like, are we?

Nobody needs reminding that such occasions have hitherto proven so good for our collective psyche, for our chest-thumping satisfaction and pride: the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2010 soccer equivalent produced dizzy levels of national joy, enthusiasm and unity that have bitterly seldom been evidenced more recently.

It’s barely up for question: when we do ‘em, we traditionally do ‘em so well.

Just as puzzling, and only adding to the confusion about which events are or may be genuinely affected by Mbalula’s pronouncements, is that he served notice, for example, that even the second consecutive Capetonian staging of the HSBC World Sevens Series later this year is not guaranteed Government go-ahead.

If ever the sound of a bullet travelling through the foot from a self-administered gun was deafening, I would argue that it is in this quite perplexing case.

The Blitzbokke send out stronger vibes than almost all other national teams of feel-good inclusiveness and multi-culturalism – and they offer consistent, frontline competitiveness on the global circuit.

When the now otherwise cobwebbed Cape Town Stadium made its debut as South African host of the annual Sevens in December 2015, some 105,000 spectators basked in the atmospheric occasion over the two days, and the cherry on top was the SA team winning it.

Just to jog memories: when they convincingly disposed of Argentina in the final, the Blitzbok tries came from Rosco Speckman (2), Seabelo Senatla (2) and Rayno Benjamin, with two conversions chipped over by Justin Geduld.

Can you spot the common denominator? They represent such a powerful showcasing of transformation.

Mbalula’s pull-the-tourneys-plug manoeuvre ironically, of course, won’t affect the country’s deeply controversial and already-sealed acceptance of the event so much of the rest of the planet determinedly shunned: the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Durban which will require some massively creative engineering to make a profitable undertaking.

I can virtually guarantee this much: ask any South Africans which of the three major-sport World Cups they would rather see the country have a (repeat) crack at, or the Commonwealth Games as an additional option, and we know which would come in fourth on the excitement-factor scale.

Minister of Sport? There will certainly be those inclined to think more: Spoilsport.

Has Fikile Mbalula only scored us an own goal? Aren’t there more positive and pro-active methods to accelerate transformation?

The ball is swirling uncertainly in the wind.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    fikile mbalula

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