SuperSport: No racism in Willemse walk-out

SuperSport on Tuesday published the outcome of the independent review into the May 19 on-air incident involving Ashwin Willemse, Nick Mallett and Naas Botha.

SuperSport appointed Advocate Vincent Maleka SC, a respected, independent professional, to review the allegations fully and objectively, after initial attempts to resolve the issue amicably and expeditiously by way of discussions with the presenters involved, did not resolve the issue. 

Advocate Maleka SC conducted an extensive process and produced a comprehensive 50-page report. 

Advocate Maleka SC attended to the following in compiling his report:

  • Reviewing the audio-visuals of the live studio broadcast including footage which was not broadcast on the day and of prior broadcasts involving the three presenters
  • Conducting separate interviews with role players including Naas Botha, Nick Mallett, the anchor on the day (Motshidisi Mohono), the Head of Production for SuperSport, the Executive Producer for rugby, the production manager of the broadcast (Mandla Ntsibande) and the CEOs of MultiChoice and SuperSport.
  • Conducting on-site inspections which included visiting the studio and viewing a live broadcast in an Outside Broadcast van
  • He also interviewed and consulted with Professor Adam Habib, an expert with extensive experience in race relations and considered literature on subtleties of racist conduct. 

Ashwin regrettably decided not to participate in the review, despite the fact that all parties involved were advised of this process before it started and raised no objections at that time.

Advocate Maleka SC found the following:

  • 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”.
  • 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.
  • The incident cannot be explained on the basis of the suggestion or suspicion that Ashwin was, for the most part, not present in the studio when the second half of the rugby match was televised.
  • There are two factors which provide a reasonable explanation for the incident. 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.

Advocate Maleka SC made a number of recommendations, all of which will be implemented by SuperSport:

  • 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.

Given the content of the report, it is expected that Naas and Nick will resume studio duties in the future, at a time to be determined by SuperSport.

While SuperSport is disappointed that Ashwin did not participate in Advocate Maleka’s review, it respects his right not to do so.

“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.

Notwithstanding what has happened, one cannot forget that Ashwin reached the peak of international sport while facing very difficult circumstances and he continues to inspire many young people in our country. He represents the aspirations of many and I sincerely hope that Ashwin will respond positively” concluded Gideon Khobane, CEO of SuperSport. — Sport24

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