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No racism in Willemse walk-out, says SuperSport

The independent review into the Ashwin Willemse walk-out has found that the conduct of Nick Mallett and Naas Botha “does not manifest naked racism and was not motivated by racist considerations”.

The former Springbok wing walked off of set last month after accusing co-hosts Nick Mallett and Naas Botha of patronising him. The broadcaster announced a few days later that all three would be pulled off the air while an independent mediator looks into the issue.

Advocate Vincent Maleka was elected to chair the review and his findings and recommendations were delivered at the Multichoice offices in Randburg this afternoon.

“That the conduct of Naas and Nick during the off-air conversation with Ashwin and during the live studio broadcast of the post-match commentary of the match “does not manifest naked racism and was not motivated by racist considerations,” the report read.

“Assisted by Prof Habib, Advocate Maleka SC also found that there was also no evidence of Naas or Nick exhibiting either intended or unintended subtle racism.”

Maleka draw on testimony from various sources, including Botha and Mallett. Willemse, however, refused to participate in the review. It’s a decision that indicative of frosty relations between the broadcaster and their analyst, and SuperSport CEO Gideon Khobane was eager to stress that he hopes to begin a process of reconciliation.

“In the spirit of reconciliation, I will make another attempt to reach out to Ashwin for us to find a mutually-acceptable way forward so that he knows that this issue has been fairly investigated,” he said in his statement at the Randburg offices.

Given that Willemse didn’t testify, SuperSport is unable to explain the exact reasoning behind Willemse’s decision to walk off of set.

The report indicates a mix-up over speaking time as one of the possible reasons.

“There are two factors which provide a reasonable explanation for the incident,” it reads. “The first is the (mistaken) technical assumption that there was enough time for all the analyst to express their pre-match analysis or commentary of the Lions/Brumbies rugby match. However, the switch to the live broadcast happened sooner than anticipated. Consequently, there was no time for Ashwin to express his views. The panel then agreed, off-air, that Ashwin would be given the first opportunity to speak after the game.

“The second is that it is reasonable to assume that Ashwin may have regarded the common stance adopted by Nick and Naas as patronising when they insisted that he should thereafter speak first.”

Khobane said SuperSport will be implementing all of the reports recommendations. Namely:

  • A forum will be established for the team of analysts to provide their views on the performance of the analysts (and possible room for improvement) during that specific broadcast, after each studio broadcast.
  • A code of conduct will be formulated for analysts including grievance procedures and credible mechanisms to resolve any grievances they may have.
  • Analysts will be required to operate the touch screen in the studio “across the colour-line”, even though the touch screen is the more complex of the functions on set.
  • Counselling will be offered to Motshidisi, Naas, Nick and Ashwin due to the emotional suffering all have endured from and since the incident.
  • SuperSport will take the additional step to refer the report to the SA Human Rights Commission.

Read the full report of the review commissioned by SuperSport:

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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