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Don’t blame our dismal Olympics performance on lack o...

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Don’t blame our dismal Olympics performance on lack of transformation, blame it on government


Prof Michael le Cordeur is the Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Education Faculty at the University of Stellenbosch.

Twenty-seven years after apartheid ended, nearly 10,000 schools in South Africa still have no sports facilities. According to 2018 government statistics, 20,000 of the 23,400 public schools do not have a laboratory. Yet, matrics are expected to pass physical sciences in preparation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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


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All Comments 9

  • School Sport and Physical Education: many educators for many years still tried to do this effectively in their schools by using community center facilities. Unfortunately this system has also collapsed totally with no available funds for the upkeep and development of the facilities. Many organizations developed some facilities at township schools but unfortunately their are no allocated budget for upkeep of such facilities. School Districts have to oversee, supply equipment and run competitions with a very limited budget targeting only certain sports. No educators, trained in sports skills development, are produced any more.

  • One only has to look at the wanton destruction of the municipal sports facilities that existed, dare I say it, after the ANC came to power. Then of course came the expenditure on the vanity stadia.

  • Never a truer word was spoken. This is exactly what the problem is – school children must be encouraged – even compelled – to play one sport at all schools. An active body creates an active mind, team sport teaches teamwork and success breeds a need to become competitive. All these characteristics are required to create a well-rounded productive adult. Academic success will be a result and so will Olympic medals.

  • An honest and true summation. It is perhaps worthwhile to note that whereas democratic government began in 1994, apartheid ended three years earlier when all levels of government were required to ignore (cease to enforce) former discriminatory provisions in legislation while it was in the process of being amended. It would also be important to note that most model C schools instituted affirmative action that today sees the greater percentage of pupils being persons of colour. Having said that, it may be worthwhile to note the influence of parents in recognising special appitudes and encouraging and supporting the development of special (sporting) skills and abilities in the early years – no number or quality of facilities can be a substitute for this vital and important family support structure. (Top sportspersons worldwide come from relatively impoverished communities). The time has come to banish the blame game along with the new banner of entitlement – take the examples of many of the worlds top cricketers (Indian’s, West Indian’s and so forth), footballers, and may I mention the supreme long distance running athletes from Kenya. While understanding that parents may have pressing issues of daily survival to contend with, recognition of tbeir children’s talents and thereafter their unwavering support, will provide dignity and meaning to the childs development for the future and will lead to achievements for the individual and the country

  • Another problem is that in the Former Model C schools educators are happy to conduct school sports in the afternoons and devote weekends and some holidays to ensuring strong sports teams. In schools with a heavy SADTU presence there does not seem to be this same dedication to ensuring that the learners get good coaching. It is all dependent on a willingness to make a difference which, SADTU, sadly seems to lack.

  • Oh come on! Many nations, often smaller and poorer than South Africa put up a better performance. Most sports, especially traditional track and field, are dominated by individuals from Africa or African origin.

  • Please forget about 4IR!

    Our government has not rid us of pit latrines, it is cruel to spin bullshit about how soon all our kids are going to be sipping expensive coffees doodling on tablet computers for a living.

    As to sport, quotas have ensured that in all future Olympics there will be more medals won by former South Africans under new flags than by our teams. It already happened in 2020. Well done.

  • Totally agree, and has anyone factored in the thousands of hours of unpaid volunteer commitment that keeps the non-mainstream sports alive? To pry meagre funding from the state requires endless administration and report backs and, in the end, the passionate and dedicated volunteer, who wants to be involved in the active side of the sport, ends up being a pseudo social worker/administrator to meet the demands of scorecards. As a result volunteer burnout and disillusionment is common within 2-3 years, and a shortage of willing replacements is the norm. Olympic qualification requirements in the real world are met by achieving absolute standards or relative performance, you cannot tickbox an athlete to a medal and you can only abuse the passionate energy of a volunteer for so long.

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