South Africa’s Athletes/Players Forced By Officialdom To Be Quiet; Have No Voice! By Cheryl Roberts

27 Jul

Sport in South Africa is autocratic with democratic processes of interaction and discussion between officials and athletes non-existent. Sports federations are not only administered, but viciously controlled, by officialdom. Athletes and players are forced to be quiet, have no voice, are never asked their opinion, have no democratic discussions and are especially treated as non-thinking participants in sport.

Across the board, in all sports federations, officials are intolerant of athletes voices. It’s not that officialdom doesn’t like athletes/players to announce their opinion. It’s about sports officials being the oligarchical bosses, demanding athletes not to have a voice. Sports officials are especially scared to have athletes/players speaking out and challenging officialdom.

With most sports federations, before an athlete gives an interview they must ‘get permission’ and this permission is usually from the federation’s gatekeeper in the form of the communications/media person. These gatekeepers want to actually be present when the athlete is being interviewed. They will tell you it’s to guard the athlete from being misquoted or something like that. But it’s really to ensure the athlete doesn’t ‘speak out of line’, according to the sports federation.

Particularly in the era of social media, athletes/players are ‘monitored’ and anything remarked about or stated on social media that the federation official/s don’t approve of, is immediately and aggressively taken up with the athlete.

But what are officials in sport afraid of? Why are they representing sports officialdom as a dictatorship and dictated entity? Why are they so intent on controlling the minds, opinion and thinking of athletes/players and participants in organised sport?

It’s not only the officials that athletes are scared of; they also can’t question or challenge the appointed coach for fear of being dropped, not selected and sidelined.

It’s not just about silencing the voices of athletes. It’s also about ensuring the athletes have no critical consciousness. No political and social justice talk is allow; not even encouraged or supported! Can you believe this?

Athletes, players and their coaches are expected to train and participate in sport according to how officialdom sets the rules and regulations. No discussion or opinion is entertained or entered into. And the other gatekeepers are the employees in sports federations, most of whom administer sport from offices as if they own the sport, together with the officials.

Across all sports and in all sports, the athletes are trapped. They have voices that are silenced! Should they dare to speak out and give opinions, they are summoned for disciplinary action by insecure officials who rule the sport as if they own the sport.

Sometimes it gets too much and the athletes anger starts to boil. If it’s team action, then players stand together on a stronger foundation. If it’s an individual athlete speaking out, rarely do others support the athletes action, with athletes opting to view from the sidelines.

Competitive sport is fiercely competitive with selection being highly challenged and contested. With no athlete wanting to jeopardise their selection chances, they keep their voice quiet, speaking out only to close friends and contacts about their unhappiness, challenges and grievances.

The players and athletes get frustrated. They want to ask questions. They want answers. They have ideas about how sport can better deliver for athletes participation. Coaches dominate their thinking and behaviour. Officials silence them. There are no processes for athletes to speak out and challenge. They get told to take up challenges and grievances through their clubs and provincial structures. However, it’s in these very sports confines that athletes are silenced.

When representing provinces and country, athletes are briefed what to say and what not to say. Views about politics and social justice awareness are outlawed. The athletes/players are expected to concentrate on performance only, as if they exist outside the realm of society and it’s interconnectedness.

If athletes and players knew their power they would stand together, across all sports and boycott officialdom. Then what will officialdom have to administer and to whom would they dictate? But then again, athletes can’t perform without the officials who organise sport for them to participate in and compete.

A thorough assessment of the state of athlete/official relationship will reveal a state of being bullied. But really, the control of athletes voices is not only unhealthy for sport, it’s also unbearable! Athletes must be allowed to speak without fear of being victimised, disciplined, suspended or expelled. Dictators, autocratic and oligarchical officials in sport are harming sport.

8cheryl roberts  in the rain forest in ghana

Cheryl Roberts (writer of the blog)


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