In a recent reflection on the state of sport in South Africa, Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula expressed disappointment at the slow pace of transformation in certain sports in South Africa. This followed the release of a report by the Eminent Person’s Group, commissioned and funded by Minister Mbalula.
I want to ask Minister Mbalula: Why are you alarmed, disappointed and angered by this state of sport? Surely, as the Minister of South African sport, you should be aware of honest assessments of sport in our country?
What have you been doing during your tenure as Minister of Sport, if you weren’t aware what was happening at ground level which is the pivotal foundation? You see, Minister Mbalula, the provision, organization, development and management of sport, in an unequal society such as South Africa, is not only about razzmatazz and hosting of mega events which costs mega rands.
Some observers and analysts of the state of sport in South Africa, I being one of them, have over recent years questioned the spending of the national and provincial sports budgets because we are not seeing the change that is necessary to have sport transformed. Have you only realised now that participation numbers at grassroots sport level is declining? Have you only woken up now to the fact that sport is being organised for those who can afford to pay and play?
Minister Mbalula, you are not a foolish person; you are a thinking person. But there is a chance that, with your focus on razzmatazz, you have kept your blinkers on and overlooked the wrongs, deficiencies, challenges in South African sport.
Take time away from your high profile mega events, from your razzmatazz celebration of South African sport and be present at grassroots and community sport. You will see the volunteers who secure the foundation of sport thru their passion, commitment and hard work. This is done with no money, no rewards, no guarantee of any thanks; yet these grassroots people in sport make it happen. Now you are alarmed at the declining rates of black participation in sport?
This is the reality of the state of sport in South Africa which is largely about money. People either have the money to play their way thru the sports pyramid or they are made to hustle thru the vast myriad of challenges. Professional sports such as cricket, rugby, golf, football get the sponsors share; this is because capitalists and corporates associate with sports than can bring them more money. Most sports are left to rely on funding from your department which is SRSA and Lotto. Most times sports federations have to beg for their funds because your very own department takes months to deposit their funds allocated to sports federations. How do you expect sports federations to develop and grow when they are being stifled and strangled by the very department you preside over?
Why do you insist on using the country’s financial resources on mega events costing millions when those very same millions could be used to develop grassroots sport? Clubs and community structures are struggling; the volunteer sports officials use their personal time, resources and money to fund grassroots sport whilst you delight in emphasizing razzmatazz.
Minister Mbalula is not 100% faulty or wrong. He has delivered piece meal success here and there with good results. But his initiatives to develop sport via his national sports plan and school sport are already failing. Minister Mbalula’s obsession with razzmatazz mega events, has gotten South African sport into this present state where corporates and professional sports, together with an elite group of sports officials, rule the sports domain as if sport is their personal empire.
South Africa’s talent and potential amongst working class communities are not being noticed, nor are children and youth being given chances and opportunities they should have from a sports budget which should prioritise grassroots development. School sport, community and club sport needs much more attention, more funds, organization and focus. This is our future.