South Africa

South Africa, Sport

Analysis: Sascoc Inquiry highlights grotesque arrogance and disregard for SA athletes

The ministerial inquiry into Sascoc’s shenanigans concluded last week and while few, if any, of the allegations raised were earth-shattering, it once again highlighted that those tasked with a duty of care to South Africa’s top athletes are too busy fighting with each other to deliver a successful high-performance programme that should make the country one of the world’s top athletics nations. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

The ministerial inquiry into alleged maladministration at financial mismanagement at the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) ended last week after three weeks and countless witnesses making submissions.

When the inquiry was first announced by former Minister of Sport, Thulas Nxesi, there were mixed feelings.

On the one hand, such an inquiry is long overdue.

On the other, the panel’s influence is limited.

At worst, the minister (now Tokozile Xasa) can dissolve the board but risk being banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for political interference.

South Africans don’t exactly have much faith in inquiries considering that their recommendations are rarely fully implemented.

And so, with a good dose of scepticism, the public watched. Or rather, didn’t watch since just one day of the hearings was publicly broadcast – a gigantic transparency fail in the context of it all.

Accusations and counteraccusations spilled out onto the floor at the conference room in Ellis Park for few to see.

From alleged conflict of interest, violations of the Olympic body’s constitution, female officials raising concerns about feeling threatened and undermined to issues around protection of allies, ridiculous amounts of money spent on that fake “security report” – none of these revelations was exactly new.

Instead, it simply highlighted what everyone already knew: the board is dysfunctional and factional and it should be dissolved.

But the inquiry seemingly ignored the group of people most affected by the dysfunction: the athletes themselves.

Those who bear the brunt of the maladministration didn’t even appear before the committee. It might be because the country’s athletes do not have anything to do with administration, but they are the victims here.

The arrogance from those whose mandate it is to run high performance sport and their disregard for the duty of care they should be offering to the country’s elite athletes has never been more apparent.

Most notable is the entitlement officials seem to think they have for daily allowances for sporting events.

Sascoc has repeatedly pleaded poverty, but the inquiry heard how money is spent on spouses, fake reports and how daily allowances for board members should be more than they are.

Sacked CEO Tubby Reddy told the inquiry that spouses and partners of Sascoc board members were given allowances of R2,400 a day during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

For partners who attended the whole event, including the opening and closing ceremonies, that’s more than R40,000 per person.

For the board members themselves, the allowance is over R3,500 per day which President Gideon Sam argued is too little.

During his heated testimony on the final day of the inquiry, Sam went so far as to call the daily allowances “useless” in some countries.

He gets a R21,000 a month stipend and the covering of all flight and accommodation costs as well as a daily per diem allowance of $500 when travelling. Not bad going for a voluntary member of a non-profit body.

One of the members of the inquiry panel, Shamima Gaibie‚ a labour law expert, asked: “You think $500 (for two meals and travel) a day is very little?”

To which Sam replied: “Reasonable to too little … If you’re going (British) pounds‚ it’s hopeless. You must work out in the country where you are. If you go to France and you work it in the franc (sic)‚ it’s totally useless.”

He tried to argue that other federations have bigger budgets and said that he was just “small fry”.

In total, Sascoc spends R2.2-million each year on per diem allowances for its board members, according to evidence given by Reddy.

It is a staggering amount of money for an organisation that couldn’t even pay for tailors to alter their own athletes’ tracksuits. Or when athletes’ parents have to hold boerewors sales for athletes to get them to Rio. Other athletes have had to crowdfund themselves to compete at international championships.

But Sam denied that Sascoc is dysfunctional.

“An organisation is not dysfunctional if it has a farewell function and sends about 300 athletes and managers to the Commonwealth Games,” Sam said during his tense testimony.

“An organisation is not dysfunctional when it can continue to pay its services and so on. An organisation is not dysfunctional if somewhere it has reserves to the tune of R18-million. An organisation is not dysfunctional when they run the programmes of coaches and associations on a daily basis.”

Others will argue that the board spending just 10% of its time on matters relating to sport is a sign of dysfunction.

Sam, for all his faults, highlighted this in his testimony, saying it is because he is spending too much time going to court or dealing with things like “doping in pigeon racing”.

The president pinned the blame for this mismanagement on the structures of South African sport. And he has a point, but these disagreements have been going on for years and that they have been allowed to descend to the point of dysfunction is jarring.

The disregard for the millions spent on allowances highlights the grotesque arrogance those tasked with managing and developing the country’s top athletes have for those who dedicate their lives to winning medals for South Africa.

High-performance sport takes a collective effort that cannot be achieved when petty internal squabbles can’t be resolved internally.

There are some examples of how this has worked. They intervened to help move Luvo Manyonga, the current world long jump champion, to the high performance facility in Tuks. But even that deal was not brokered alone.

But these examples of positive intervention are outliers. Over the last few years, Sascoc has been in the headlines for fights with athletes more often than they have been praised. Yet, they will be the first to jump on their glory when it is achieved.

All eyes are now on what recommendations the panel will put forward, but considering the factional battles and in-fighting at Sascoc, it is unlikely that any of these will be implemented.

New sports minister Tokozile Xasa will then have her work cut out for her. DM

File Photo: Gideon Sam, President of SACOC, during the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Town Square Mall of Africa, Midrand South Africa on the 27 February 2018 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

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