Battle for soul of sport

Government hiring top lawyers for court transformation fight, won’t back Morocco’s World Cup bid

Minister of Sport and Recreation Tokozile Xasa
Minister of Sport and Recreation Tokozile Xasa
Image: Mahlatse Mphahlele

The South African government is putting together the best possible legal team to face Solidarity in court ahead of the trade union’s bid to challenge transformation in sport.

Minister of Sport and Recreation Tokozile Xasa said yesterday that she had instructed the director-general in her department‚ Alec Moemi‚ to get the best legal minds in the country at whatever cost in preparation for the court battle.

Solidarity and AfriForum filed a legal challenge against SA Rugby‚ Cricket South Africa‚ Athletics South Africa and Netball South Africa in May last year over their transformation targets, but Xasa said the government would not allow anyone to undermine what it was doing.

“We are facing a court case that says what we are doing is unfair to those who have held privilege since the dawn of colonialism and apartheid‚” she said.

“I have issued an instruction that we defend this case with all the might the state has.

“It is of such national importance because it can potentially reverse the gains of democracy for the underprivileged majority.

“I have further directed the director-general to assemble a senior and capable legal team to defend what is necessary to secure the future of our country and its stability.

“In the year of the centenary of Nelson Mandela‚ we believe that this process is key to the success of the reconciliation and the nation-building process our country is engaged in.”

Xasa said she was disappointed that Solidarity was trying to frustrate and challenge the transformation agenda in the country but warned that the government would do whatever was necessary to protect the underprivileged majority.

“They are taking us to court because they want to [preserve] the apartheid legacy,” she said.

“Our stance is not to purge anyone but to give opportunities to all South Africans and ensure that we create an environment of inclusivity.”

Xasa said that rugby‚ netball‚ football and cricket had met the transformation targets they set for themselves over the past year.
Though South African athletes have consistently performed well on the international stage‚ Athletics South Africa did not fully meet its self-set targets largely because of its poor development programmes.

Xasa also said the government would not support Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 Fifa Soccer World Cup.

The two countries have had strained relations since Morocco withdrew its ambassador from Pretoria in 2004 when South Africa recognised the independence of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic‚ also known as the Western Sahara.

“We are very clear that we can’t support Morocco‚” Xasa said.

She was reacting to reports that quoted South African Football Association (Safa) president Danny Jordaan as saying he would back the Moroccan bid.

“Our parliament was very straightforward in this regard – it is the mandate of the country and it is an obligation for sporting bodies to understand what the country’s agenda is‚” Xasa said.

“South Africa has hosted many big events in the past. We are recognised throughout the world‚ our teams are doing very well.”

Last month‚ a Moroccan delegation comprising celebrated former Senegal and Liverpool striker El Hadji Diouf and former Cameroonian goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell visited Safa House to lobby for support.

Safa has since backtracked on Jordaan’s comments and has indicated that a decision on which bid to support between Morocco and the USA would be taken by its national executive committee.

“We have received the presentation from the USA bid during the Cosafa Congress in Johannesburg,” Safa said.

“Safa also received a presentation on the Morocco bid.

“It was made clear to both delegations that these presentations would be taken to Safa NEC.”