South Africa sent its biggest team yet to the Olympic Games in Japan, but returned with only three medals. Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa places the blame for the poor performance on transformation. Two questions immediately arise: did he not know beforehand that certain teams are not transformed? And would he have remained quiet if there had been more medals?
Deterioration in South African sports is not a recent development. More recently, Covid-19 has forced school sport to a halt, but quite frankly it has been deteriorating for a while now — and the government has a huge share in that.
The success of the Springboks creates a false impression about the actual state of sport in our country. South Africa simply does not have an Olympic culture. Truth be told, we never had it. We are simply too obsessed with rugby and soccer, and to a lesser extent with cricket and netball, of which the last two are not even Olympic sports.
What is even more upsetting is that for Tatjana Schoenmaker (gold in the 200m breaststroke and silver in the 100m breaststroke) and Bianca Buitendag (silver in surfing) there is no money available for a performance bonus. But the Springboks, thanks to sponsorships, received bonuses of R62-million after they won the 2019 World Cup Rugby.
Shortly after Steve Tshwete was appointed minister of sport in 1994, he said the absence of sport and recreation facilities in disadvantaged communities was one of the cruellest legacies of apartheid. He promised that the government would do everything in its power to eradicate the backlog. But this promise, like so many others, has come to nought.
Because 27 years after apartheid nearly 10,000 schools in South Africa still have no sports facilities. In townships, children must still go to school in the most appalling conditions. According to the government’s 2018 statistics, 20,000 of the 23,400 public schools do not have a laboratory. But we expect matrics to pass physical sciences in preparation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Another 1,800 schools have never had a library. And then we are surprised if our children do poorly in international reading and writing tests.
National sporting bodies and the minister will claim transformation and point to the players of colour in our national teams. On closer look, you find that most of these players learned their skills at private and Model C schools, where there are facilities. It creates discomfort if the media only acknowledge the schools that attracted players with a sports bursary. The school where the child originally had his schooling, is often withheld.
The closest we have come to an Olympic culture was before 1994 when the school sports body Ussasa was still active. Ussasa was, however, never supported by the new government. Shortly after his appointment as minister of education, Kader Asmal discontinued Physical Education as a subject and replaced it with Life Orientation.
Many sports teachers — the real force behind school sport in poor communities — were laid off overnight. This would slowly strangle school sport and especially the Olympic sports codes.
Thus, I have no sympathy for Mthethwa’s lamentations about transformation. As sport is run in South Africa, it is not transformation, but at best social engineering which makes no difference to poor children in townships.
Mthethwa must remove the beam from his own eye. DM