The long awaited Beijing Olympic Games 2008 have come and gone not without controversial. After all the games were staged in a country that does not have the most revered human rights reports. One major talking point prior to the Beijing games was China’s Stalinist rule of Tibet. Another talking during the games was, of course, Team (read as tame) South Africa’s display or lack of it at the ‘holy grail’ of the sporting world’s showpiece. South Africans, as we are known for our criticism, did not waste time in passing the blame baton and the usual suspect was: transformation and its politics. The thorny and possibly sad thing about transformation is that it strikes at, arguably, the only thing the people can unapologetically display patriotism for – sports. (un)fortunately, depending on which extreme end of the debate you’ve positioned yourself, in a country like South Africa where the policy of exclusivity was the gatekeeper in many sporting codes and had the final say as to who shall represent the country and shall be relegated to the allowable sports of the Other, the issue of transformation can never be over looked. In the Chambers – Macmilan dictionary the word transformation means to change the nature, appearance and function of something completely.
Transformation policy does not result of itself and this particular instance it assumes the role of an antithesis and attempts to change the nature, appearance and design of certain sporting codes that have remained stubbornly reactionary in their quest to maintain traditions inherited fro the old establishment. The detractors of the quotas system have always branded the system as racist when ever it is implemented. My question is how then do we dismantle consequences of a previously racial based selection and participation system? Amongst the solutions would be to widen the gates of participation and diversity will be an indicator that race does not play a role or rather should not play in role in the sporting construct. There has been a lot of comments made about the political influence and interference and how it’s to blame for the state of South African sports. That’s not entirely false argument, but where have you not had political involvement in sports, I mean the very rules and regulations that govern sports are legislated by politicians. The very reason there’s quotas systems I sporting and social policy is because there was political management of sport in this country and its roots run deeper than most think. In an ideal state politics would be put aside, but is that going to change the rather entrenched perception that soccer is a black ‘sport’ and rugby and cricket are white ‘sport’? In the team that just returned from
Beijing only 20 of the 216 participating athletes were black. And yet there newspapers editors who allow their opinions sections to be decorated with letters of disgruntled sport loving citizens about the ‘high’ level of political interference and agendas being pushed in sports.
The media has painted this imperative instrument as sullen and sinister and as a means of depriving, especially, the white community of their beloved and sacred ‘heritage’ sports. There’s very few reports publicized in the media where transformation has worked and this is not to say that it is a given that transformation is not effective. When a few black (African, Indian and Colored) players are picked they are paraded and treated with kid gloves just to indicate to the greater populace how progressive rugby and cricket selectors are. With the exception of Makhaya Nitini, Ashwell Prince, Paul Adam (in the 90s) and Hershel Gibbs which other black players have featured largely in the Proteas set put? The less said about rugby the better, because if ever there’s a place that is a haven for reactionaries it is the different rugby unions in this country. The Brian Hanban craze will disappear soon like Cobani Bobo and Lawrance Sephaka’s did and few of them who were ordained and showered with praises from the rugby circles as being signs of progress. There’s a plethora of talented young people from disadvantaged communities who are monitored by selectors, simply because the definition of some of the selectors extends only as far as well resourced schools. Another interesting argument that has come to the fore regarding transformation is that it must be applied to every sporting code across the country including soccer.
If ever there’s a sport were racism was dealt with during apartheid it is the beautiful game. In fact in 1972 teams that used to play in two racially structured leagues were reorganized in one non racial league. Teams such as Maning Rangers, Highlanders, Acadia Shepards and many more started playing against the Moroka Swallos, Olrando Pirates, Amazulu and an infinity of other teams. It was a common thing to see white players in the colors of teams from the townships such as Roger De Sa at Swallows, Niel and Mark Tovey at Chiefs, Gavin Lane at Pirates and Mark Fish at Cosmos. So that argument of soccer being a candidate for transformation is going to be a bit hard to sell to the policy makers. The deputy chairperson of parliamentary sport portfolio committee Cedric Frolick issued a clear message stating that transformation would not be impeded on. But in order to insure that such things occur, transformation that is, there has to be cohesion between the uninspiring sports ministry, under the guardian of Dr Makhenkisi Stofile, SASCOC and selectors at grassroots levels. The young enthusiasts what participate in the diverse sporting codes must be provided with proper infrastructure so that they can hone their talents, because it would be too ambitious a mission and expectation for the government to what t see result but not play their part.
That’s why I was amazed when the nation was taken aback by the performance in Beijing. A few gold medals in Athens from a relay team which counts as one medal in the ranking already we thought we were stuff legends are made of. We have to understand that countries like China did not just become Olympic contenders and winners overnight. In fact it is a plan that spans more than 3 decades and look at them now 51 gold medal at home, they came second in Athens with 32 gold medals and they came third in Sydney with 28 gold medals, what more can you want from the honorable Chairman Mao’s People’s Republic of China – besides freeing Tibet of course? The 11 million that was spent on the Ekhaya project in Beijing by the sports ministry should have been used for coaching clinics in the townships others than Soweto. Those high performance centres that we constant boast about must start doing exactly that – producing high performing individuals and teams. Big business could do a better job in adding a few more zeros on the cheque books as dangling carrots for our athletes to be able to compete in meeting where the aristocracy of the cream of the crop is known to float. Come to think of it South African sports is far from doom, I mean the Proteas are the second best team on the ICC rankings; the Springboks are IRB world champions and perhaps not as rosy as the first two Bafana are slowly find their feet and we’ve got two FIFA events to host and we could win both of them. All is not lost, I’m starting to see a silver lining behind Khotso Mokeana’s medal…It has to be transformed into gold. Happy Heritage month.