South Africa, Sport

Holding us hostage: How little Napoleons are ruining SA sport

Holding us hostage: How little Napoleons are ruining SA sport

As a nation, we’ve grown accustomed to a staple of political scandal, claims of corruption, howls of outrage and innocence as well as the usual “innocent until proven guilty” side-dish. The leaders of our sporting codes offer us more or less the same diet. Yet another large sporting event has run into money trouble and a national sporting team has dropped out of the World Cup. Surely, we’re tired of it all by now? But we know, once again, that it’s all about the money. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

On Monday the Soweto Marathon Trust confirmed that it was calling off this year’s race. The announcement itself was astounding. But what followed was even more alarming. The trust went to town, blaming Athletics South Africa President/CEO/God, James Evans, for the entire snafu. [Situation Normal: All Fucked Up, for those unfamiliar with the military term. – Ed]

Its spokesperson, Banele Sindane, claimed the root of the problem was that no one would sponsor athletics because of the various conflicts within ASA in which Evans was embroiled. There was more. Evans had signed a contract with the SABC for the broadcasting rights to the marathon but that this was being kept secret for “business reasons”.

So, on the trust’s version, Evans and ASA would receive money from the marathon that the trust was organising. You know, like Number One benefits from a mansion/compound/village that Public Works happens to build.

Evans, of course, has a different version. But it’s difficult to understand, because he won’t do interviews and claims the media has defamed him in failing to check the trust’s facts. However, it is evident from SMS communication with journalists and radio producers that Evans was in fact available for interviews – he just didn’t want to have to explain himself.

Evans maintains the trust has no right to arrange the marathon or call it off. He added that it might even be “unsafe” to hold it in Soweto now because he believed that people were angry at the situation. Yes, dear, that’s right: your average Sowetan gives enough of a continental that he or she is going to assault a passing runner.

At the same time, we have the less than edifying spectacle of another football World Cup without Bafana Bafana. This time it’s because we simply weren’t good enough, and didn’t quite get shirty with Fifa when it took forever to decide whether to dock points from Ethiopia for fielding an ineligible player.

But the roots of Bafana’s problem really lies, as it always does, with the administrators. SAFA has been a bit of a gang-war zone for years. There’s no future certainty and the things that need to get done are not being done.

Did you know, for example, that the Under-23 team hasn’t played in two years? What are the chances of them actually getting into the next Olympics? I’ll tell you. The same as Siyabonga Cwele realising that the Info Bill was all a big mistake.

Swimming South Africa is no better. There, the CEO, Shaun Adriaanse, is such a small person that he hauled Gerhard Zandberg into a disciplinary hearing just before the final of his competition during the World Champs because he had spent the night in the same room as his girlfriend. Zandberg was a swimming prodigy once. But he’s thirty now. What kind of little Napoleon do you have to be to even think of a rule about teams and rooms for thirty-year-olds, never mind actually ruining someone’s chances of getting a medal over it?

The fact is that there are not a lot of reasons these types of administrators are still in charge of our big sports. It’s mostly because they get rich. Look at them. Do you see any of them driving a car that is not German? Do any of them look particularly sporty and athletic? Are any of them the kind of people you would employ in a bank? Would you lend them money? Would you buy a used car from any of these men?

If you ask them why they are in their jobs, they mumble something about national pride, or building for the future or that we should wait for the results. It’s all nonsense.

It’s simple, really. Conduct a lifestyle audit on all of them. And if any are living a better lifestyle than the athletes, let’s chuck them out. That would be proof that they are not doing their jobs and that they’re in this for themselves. And if they claim that somehow they’re actually worth more, well, make them prove it.

No doubt the response will be that they are not the only ones and that football’s Number One is clearly very rich, well paid, and less than athletic. Well, ask them if Sepp Blatter would be their first choice of son-in-law. But Blatter’s behaviour, and the fact that he’s still head of Fifa, is proof that that entire system is rotten.

And the reason so many sport administrators get away with it is simply because there is no competition. If Zandberg wants to race at the World Champs, he has to race for his country. And if a pillock like Adriaanse controls Swimming SA, then what choice does he have? None whatsoever.

Just imagine for a moment if sport, instead of being arranged around nations, were structured through franchises, international super-clubs or any other formation. Some might well have rules that would make an NG Kerk dominee proud, while others would serve tequila with their high-carbohydrate breakfast. But swimmers and athletes could decide who they would sign up with and actually have some choice in the matter.

Some of these franchises would do better than others, while some might produce the kind of spoilt-rotten superstar that everyone really loves to watch anyway. The point is, however, that athletes would no longer be held hostage.

The current system allows individuals no one really trusts to rise to the top and because of this, everyone suffers; the athletes and the organisations they represent. They make less money, then, and eventually go bust – and we won’t even begin to discuss the effect on youngsters who should be the ones really being developed.

We can do better than this, surely. DM

Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He’s been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

Photo: Napoleon Bonaparte x 8.


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