Let’s build, not destroy our sport

WITH reference to The Herald editorial comment dated April 8 (“Address problems at grassroots first”), few South Africans would argue that it is an imperative for the future of sport in South Africa that sport development is embraced widely by society, and by sports bodies, clubs and schools. It has been one of the few exceptional areas of our new democracy that has brought people together across the divide of culture, language and economic standing.

It is also one of the few areas where South Africa has accomplished way beyond its weight in the international arenas of many sports codes. This is thanks mainly to the dedication of the largely voluntary force behind most sports codes at club and school level.

In many cases these people are coaches, parents and enthusiasts who don’t get paid, but do it for the love of and the advancement of the sport. These people have no political agenda and certainly, in my experience, don’t have a racial one.

Furthermore, sport is one of the major contributors to the economic development of the country that ensures that we get a substantial input of foreign currency each year with South Africa being recognised as a great destination for sports events that are generally well run and provide great facilities.

Minister Fikile Mbalula, while perhaps well intentioned and probably completely frustrated with what he perceives to be slow progress, will be threatening the very heart of all sport if the proposed quota system of 60% black participants is forced on all sporting codes arbitrarily without acknowledging that they each have unique circumstances and challenges. Many of these challenges can be overcome if the government would rationally allocate resources and taxpayer money, and provide a platform of support for the various sporting codes based on each sporting code’s progress toward realistic and sustainable development.

Most people I have encountered across many sporting codes all have one thing in common: they are passionate about their sport code, and want it to flourish and grow. Most are also in my opinion quite colour blind, and certainly want to attract and keep great sport talent no matter what the colour of their skin.

The problem in most sporting codes in South Africa today is always a lack of resources. We live in a global village and athletes will ply their trade where they perceive they can best achieve or can earn best.

If facilities are not great or the structures of sport fails, as it has so often in South African cricket, soccer and athletics, the fallout is simply that the best leave and go to achieve for other countries, where they can earn better and participate in a better structured environment. I am convinced that we, as a country, will look back at this moment and decry the loss of our sport talent, and the subsequent loss of sponsors, events and revenue if this ludicrous reactionary and non-participatory process goes ahead.

There are so many great development initiatives such as the New Brighton Easter school rugby festival, reported in The Herald last week, that are started and land up dying because of lack of funding. This should be the area in which government can play its best role, by working with these initiatives, helping to provide facilities and encouraging investment from the private sector in them.

If the sports ministry was rather to provide monetary incentives that were provided once milestones towards development were reached as opposed to bringing out the whip every time, we may start to see a better relationship between the various sports administrations and the sports ministry. Thereby the sport body concerned, missing out on crucial funding, will itself become the catalyst needed to spur on any lagging sport code.

We are in this together. Let’s build, not destroy the great opportunity we have with sport in South Africa.

Greg Stewart, Port Elizabeth

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