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Stofile: ‘Balance is needed’

Sport and Recreation Minister Makhenkesi Stofile spoke to Lucky Sindane about the new Sports Amendment Act, which allows government to intervene in all sporting matters

President Thabo Mbeki signed the Sports Amendment Bill into law last month. What will change in the way sport is governed in South Africa?

Sport is a national asset in South Africa, just as it is for other countries. It has to be managed properly and governed with integrity. Sport will be governed in an accountable way which is justifiable.

The common vision of a respected South Africa in the family of nations must be reflected in the way sport is run. The national [interest] must supersede personal interests of administrators. Obviously, administrators will continue to want to build a brand that earns them money. But this should not outweigh or dilute national values and the spirit of building an exemplary nation with integrity. Athletes’ rights will be vigorously protected and the principles of fairness and justice protected.

As minister of sport, you were silent about the PSL commissions deal. Is there anything about this Act that will enable the minister to intervene in matters such as the PSL sponsorship commission saga?

Our ministry does not believe in working on the basis of rumours or sensational stories. When the media reported the issue of Absa Bank and the PSL commissions, we investigated. Both Absa and the PSL flatly denied the existence of the alleged deal. The Act now empowers [the ministry] to develop regulations even on such issues.

You will be aware that the issue of commissions is quite old. One has only to look at cricket and rugby, so we need to adopt a canvassed and even-handed approach on these issues of ethics and morality. We do not act like cowboys and film stars in our dealing with sports people. We strive to be just, but even-handed.

How does government balance its need to intervene and general discomfort by the sporting public to what is seen as political interference?

The notion that there is a ”general discomfort by the sporting public” is unscientific and misleading. The parliamentary hearings that preceded the passing of the Bill by Parliament reflected an overwhelming support for what is now the Act. The divergent views between the majority who are uncomfortable with it reflect the legacy of apartheid which is a reality between the privileged and the under-privileged.

Government must exercise responsible leadership and intervene to facilitate movement towards the South Africa of our dreams. This cannot be left to chance and the whims of market forces that display no sympathy for the poor and deprived. Nation-building is always a balancing act between anxieties and expectations. This is the balance that is needed in exercising the law.

How would you define transformation and do you think that cricket and rugby have transformed enough?

We define transformation according to the past, present and future South Africa as encapsulated by the preamble and Chapter One of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa: South African sport must be transformed from a race-based status quo to a non-racial-based situation. Section 9 (2) and 9 (4) of our Constitution allows us to make this happen.

How are you going to ensure that there is equal representation in these sporting codes without compromising the performance of the teams?

I have consistently refused to be confined to cricket and rugby. We are a ministry of sport and recreation. We are not going to be trapped into an old stereotype.

It is also wrong to create the impression that the Act is about equal representation. The Act and transformation are about equitable participation and representation. This is one of the reasons why quotas are not suitable to effect transformation. There are many other reasons too. We will strive to make access to facilities, technical and scientific resources equitable.

Once the proverbial playing grounds have been levelled, our children will start from the same starter blocks with an equal preparation and opportunity to win. Then merit selection will be a reality. Not before.

Does the Act violate International Olympic Committee [IOC] charter and Fifa statutes as claimed by the FF+?

The FF+ has not acquainted themselves with resolutions of the IOC and of Fifa adopted last year and this year respectively. These resolutions take into account realities of the present period. They are also Afrocentric in their bias. The IOC Charter posits the ought without dealing with how to get there. Their resolution of September 2006 corrects the balance. Fifa’s decision to establish a subcommittee to deal with disputes between government and football associations is a well-informed decision based on practical experience and realities.

South Africa is a young democracy still trying to get things right. Both the IOC and Fifa played a very important role in bringing apartheid to its knees. They fully understand why we are where we are. As fellow South Africans, the FF+ should also know this history. They should also realise the challenges like all of us. Let us all help our children to play sport in a better environment than the one created by some of our parents. South Africa belongs to all of us. Let us build her to what she can be.

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