Bullying Sascoc ‘must be reined in’

Representatives of sport federations have strongly criticised the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) in the wake of its suspension of Athletics South Africa (ASA).

Paena Galane, spokesperson for the department of sport and recreation, said that Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula was involved in meetings with Sascoc and the ASA to find a long-lasting solution to the current state of affairs.

On Monday, Mbalula met the ASA president, James Evans, who said the ASA were trying to get things back on track. "It's going to be tricky because [when the ASA was under administration] things weren't done the way they were supposed to be done."

Evans said Sascoc needed to change its approach when dealing with the problems within different sport federations. "Sascoc is 100% right that many of them are not run properly. The problem is with their 'you must do it our way or we'll throw you out' approach'."

It was reflected in some of the statements made by Sascoc president Gideon Sam, he said. "He uses the word 'sjambok' in relation to the federations. When he speaks like that, I think of riot policeman standing in front of me during apartheid. It's like he's saying, 'We're going to hit you if you don't behave.' We don't need that; we need a soft approach.

"They'd achieve a lot more if they sit with people and take them by the hand rather than take an aggressive stance, which is not working. Most federations are either in conflict with Sascoc or placed under administration by them."

However, Sascoc chief executive Tubby Reddy said the body only intervened when there were problems within the national federations that they felt the federations had failed to solve. "The role of Sascoc is to look after all our national federations who are affiliated to us, together with the various provincial sports councils. The magnitude of problems at ASA had reached a great extent, hence we had to take measures, which are within the constitution. Sascoc's primary aim was to help ASA's situation in whatever manner possible. The reason why Sascoc placed the federation under administration was none other than that of restoring order and maintaining the interests of the athletes."

Maladministration and corruption
The Mail & Guardian was contacted by Khaya Mjo, the secretary general of Powerboat South Africa (PSA), which Sascoc had placed under administration in November 2011.

"It was one issue which they raised – maladministration and corruption," he said. "But there had never previously been a problem. We repeatedly asked them to advise us further on the issues they had with us but they did not respond."

According to Mjo, the PSA's board was led to believe that the new administrator, Kobus Marais, would work with them, but he called for a special general meeting to elect a new board. The PSA then successfully sought an interdict from the high court to stop the meeting from taking place, and also requested that the court set aside Sascoc's decision to place it under administration.

"At first, the judge ruled that the second matter should go to arbitration but later another judge granted us a leave to appeal that decision," Mjo said.  

"A few days later Sascoc took the decision to suspend the PSA and terminate our membership, which we are also contesting in court."

Mjo described Sascoc as an ineffective body run by the office of its chief executive, Tubby Reddy, and president, Sam. "They are bullies who treat the federations – which are actually shareholders in Sascoc, since it is a section 21 company, falling under the Companies Act – like nonentities."

He called for an urgent forensic audit of Sascoc to scrutinise how the body was being run from an "administrative and financial point of view".

Bullying manner
Meanwhile, Kobus Botha, the president of the South African Rugby League (SARL), said interest in the sport was on the decline because Sascoc refused to recognise it as a legitimate national sport.

"They keep on insisting that the rugby league affiliate to the South African Rugby Union [Saru], in spite of being in possession of letters from both Saru and the IRB [International Rugby Board] indicating that such an affiliation is not possible as the sporting codes are separate sporting codes with different rules and different governing bodies.

"[This means] the clubs are not allowed to have any government support. They also cannot get sponsorships as they are not recognised as a national sport."

Botha said that, at a meeting between Sam and Danny Kazan­dijan, the general manager of the Rugby League European Federation, Sam stated that, if the SARL tried to host big events, Sascoc would use the police to stop them.  

"Sascoc acts in a bullying manner and also with sheer arrogance, simply stating to the presidents of international sporting federations that 'we do things our way in South Africa',' he said. "They do not even respond to letters or requests for meetings, and simply keep on moving the goalposts. They have even gone so far as to write letters to the heads of the regional sporting councils prohibiting them from recognising rugby league at regional and provincial level."

But Reddy was adamant that only one national federation could represent each sport type, as per Sascoc's memorandum and articles of association. "Sascoc is within its legal rights to do so, thus it was not a bullying approach."

Botha said that the power of Sascoc needed to be curbed. "A more open and direct line to the ministry of sport and recreation needs to be created. Currently Sascoc acts as the gatekeeper to the ministry and is abusing this position with impunity. If they don't get what they want, they suspend you or refuse you recognition."

Amicable solutions
But Ilhaam Groenewald, first vice-president of University Sport South Africa (USSA), which recently withdrew from Sascoc to enable its athletes to participate in the World Student Games in Russia, said it was important that there be a system to take care of sports structures that did not abide by the policies and regulations governing them.

"In this case, based on our country's sport governing framework, Sascoc and the minister both have a role to play, and this must include finding amicable solutions in the boardroom and avoid[ing] any negative impact on our athletes.

"National federations and organisations such as the USSA are the stakeholders closest to athletes, [but they] do not operate outside of our country's sport governing framework. We are all interconnected to serve the sports agenda of our beloved country."

Groenewald said the USSA had not previously experienced any major challenges with Sascoc and would reconsider their decision, which wasn't easy to reach.

"Our partnership with Sascoc is absolutely important. Until now, there have been no major challenges which could not be attended to in the boardroom. This decision was merely necessary to make sure our athletes compete.

"Since making the decision we've always indicated our doors are open and we are confident those of Sascoc too, and do hope to find a positive solution on our return from the Universiade [a multisport event for students]."

Reddy was on leave this week and only responded to the M&G shortly before the paper went to print, so it was not possible to include his full response to questions sent to him.

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