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
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
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
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
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
Did Mbalula pause properly to consider the
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
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
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
The ball is swirling uncertainly in the
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing