Road to London: Gideon Sam

2012-04-13 12:57

Cape Town - In the fifth in a series of Q 'n A style interviews with South African sportsmen and women ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Graeme Joffe chats to SASCOC president Gideon Sam.

Road to London: Bridgette Hartley

Road to London: Kate Woods

Road to London: Cameron van der Burgh
Road to London: Mbulaeni Mulaudzi

GRAEME JOFFE: Gideon, thanks once again for making yourself available. I wasn’t sure if you’d agree to the interview after some of my recent Twitter comments re: SASCOC.
GIDEON SAM: I do follow but when you are in the media, you must take it on the chin - you can’t hide. 

JOFFE: Like that theory a lot. Perhaps you can give it to a couple of other sports leaders. Okay, to start off, I heard it was a fantastic Team SA Olympic kit launch with a fashion show, lasers etc., really set the mood. 
SAM:  Definitely, you know, if you go back to what we’ve been saying all these years. We needed to change and this is a section of what we were able to put on the table for our athletes and that to us is what it’s all about.  The athletes are happy, and now all the other things, you know, set aside, and let them concentrate on what they need to do, and what they need to do is perform on the day when they take the field, or whenever they are in the pool or on the horse or what have you. So take away all of these worries and make sure that those things are in place, and that is what we achieved.

JOFFE: A nice touch with the mascot, a rhino.
SAM: Yes a fantastic touch, and I thought, you know, I think South African’s are quite aware of what is happening around them and because the whole thing of the rhino is topical and people are talking about it, the poaching is a curse, that all of us must work towards to really eradicate it. When these six finalists came forward and there was a rhino in-between, in fact there were 2, but this one, “Chukuru” was the favourite. 

JOFFE: The kit for the South African Olympic team made by Chinese manufacturer, Erke – can you give us some background to this?
SAM: Well, when we started this process, we started way back in 2009. Maybe it was probably the wrong time to start the process of looking for somebody to sponsor the team.  When we came back from Beijing, people said we had a cheek to let our athletes march on in pyjamas. It has always been very difficult to raise money and I have got the biggest respect for Mr. Moss Mashishi who was SASCOC President then, because by May of that particular year we were still battling as to how we were going to get these athletes to Beijing.  And last minute, through the good office of one of our IOC members, we were able to get them to come to the party. Well, you know if you come in at the last minute when it comes to kick for your athletes, that is what you have to live with.  So in order to avoid that kind of thing we started quite early in 2009 to knock on doors, and many a time, the known response or the known brands that the people know in this country, your Adidas and your Nike and what have you … everybody that we spoke to … people were saying, look its 2010, now most of our money is in there, we haven’t got money, and you know, we took a decision at board and management that look we can’t wait for the last minute because then we will get the same experience of saying … you are second best or you are third best from whoever is going to come to the party.  That was the one thing that drove us and we then said … let’s then throw our net very wide and see where we can get somebody to come to the party.  Now the one thing that people must also understand is it is not about going to a manufacturer and saying … sponsor the team.  Manufacturers will say … get your sponsor then come to us and get the sponsor to pay for that.  Now we never got a sponsor to say … here is money, now you can go to Adidas or you can go to Nike or you can go to whomever.  So in the end we came across this company in China, and that was also through networking, talking at these international conferences, there is a new brand that is coming up called Erke.  Why don’t you approach those guys?  I said if they are new, they are only in the market since 2000, how on earth are they going to have money to pay for a sponsor?  But you know what, they said yes, we will put in money and we will go with you for the next 4 years up to 2016.  I didn’t want to go to look out for the Olympic team only, so, they said they will also do our Commonwealth Games still, we will do your All Africa Games, we will do your Zone 6, we will do your students.  Now that is what came up in the end.  Somebody came to the table with the money US $ 4million saying … here it is … I will go with you. It’s a new company, they are not in Africa but they want to be known in Africa. I know the people are saying … but what about proudly South African ? Yes but at SASCOC, and everybody knows this, we have been battling to raise money.  It is only now, towards the end of this cycle that we get to know that  there is money coming in from sponsors,  the Lotto and we have the minister who is putting in money for the athletes. 

JOFFE: $4 million … we are talking close to R30 million. Was that the same deal that was put to South African suppliers?
SAM: South African suppliers knew that if they wanted to come on board that is what it is going to cost them.  It was costed and it was put on the table and we said, this is what is going to cost, and none of them were able to come to the party.

JOFFE: In 2010?
SAM: In 2010.

JOFFE: So R30 million from Erke, the Chinese manufacturer, is that now money that is coming to SASCOC coffers that will be used for Olympic sports?
SAM: Exactly. In other words we will be able to put in an order and say … we are now going to the world games, we need this, and that kind of money will come forward.  In other words, we don’t have to worry now how are we going to pick a team that is going to be the World Games, how are we going to pick the team that is going to Glasgow, at the end of this year, how are we going to go to Gambia for the Zone 6? Those worries are over now for the next 4 years. 

JOFFE: Well, from what I saw from the kit launch, it certainly looks a lot better than the size one fits all tracksuits from Beijing and those “beautiful” orange crocs.
SAM: (laughter) definitely.  Look you know that is the serious part. I said guys the one thing we need to do would be the athletes. Where I can give them the support, medical and otherwise, make sure that no athlete runs short, especially if the athlete has got potential.  So all our athlete’s know that. That is our role at SASCOC to  look after our athletes.

JOFFE: I just want to ask you about your media partner and PR marketing arm, HSM run my Mark Keohane - did they tender to get the SASCOC account?
SAM: They did, they did. You know what happened in 2008 I said to the board … guys I think one of the biggest draw backs for this organisation is that nobody knows what this SASCOC is all about. I went to Mpumalanga, you know that shocked me, because I was addressing the sports people in Mpumalanga, Nelspruit and the guys said to me … gee I thought this SASCOC was a factory somewhere in Jo’burg. I said but how can you say that, are you not a sports person?  No I don’t know this SASCOC.  So I said … guys it is when you have got to spend money, we have to spend money and go out there and make sure.  So yes they tendered, they put their proposals forward, we looked at it as a board and management and we were happy.  The same with SuperSport.  We were helping, you know, we would have airtime from SABC, that didn’t materialise.  So in the end we had to say … guys we have to tell the South Africans what is happening with the programme “Road to London” and we ended  up with SuperSport costing us some money. 

JOFFE: Do you remember any of the other companies that tendered for the media contract?
SAM: We had … what is this … Maggie something. But if you just call Vinesh at our office, he normally works with those things. But we had people who wanted to do that account for us.

JOFFE: Your position with Accelerate, the company  owned by Riaan Oberholzer, are you still on that board, and still no problem with the conflict of interest there?
SAM: I don’t have a problem with the conflict of interest.  My role is very minimum as Chairperson of the board and management team does all the work. So, I am quite comfortable, and that is why they will never even tender for work at SASCOC, that is very clear, we’ve made it very clear to them, we don’t work with you there.

JOFFE: But is there no link between HSM and Accelerate?
SAM: Not that I know of.

JOFFE: One last thorny issue … SASCOC putting millions into a horse racing sponsorship. Should that not be for Olympic sports like assisting men’s hockey?
SAM: No we don’t put in a cent. They actually give us on an annual basis something like close to R2.4 million which we then pump into bursaries for our ads.  No we don’t put in a cent. That money that’s the horse racing trust we’ll go and raise to make sure that we get the type of bursary, in other words, it is a SASCOC trust account, but we don’t put in a cent, no, no.  We are not wasting money. 

JOFFE: Right, Olympic team, when will the final team be announced?
SAM: We start off on the June 4. There are two announcements for the able bodied athletes and then the announcement for the Paralympics, .sometime in early July.  We are on track with that, so we will make the first announcement around June and then the second announcement. 

JOFFE: And still hopeful for 12 medals?
SAM: We are going forward, until the fat lady has sung here in London. We are still going for 12. 

Catch Graeme Joffe on SportsFire every Monday and Thursday at 17:30 on Radio Today, 1485am in JHB, National on DStv audio channel 169 and streaming worldwide on Follow Graeme Joffe on Twitter: @joffersmyboy

Gideon Sam is a trained teacher by profession and has served on various higher education councils and school governing bodies across South Africa such as University of Fort Hare and Foundation. He has actively participated in and led many delegations to improve the quality of education in the country. Sam is the current president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympics Committe (SASCOC).