SA should put its money where its big mouth is

Eric Naki

Eric Naki

e must go back to basics and the basics in sport are in school sports.

This is how Minister of Sport and Recreation Makhenkesi Stofile reacted to South Africa's poor performance at the Olympics in Beijing.

That's good coming from the minister himself. But will he put his money where his mouth is?

If our athletes' dismal performance in Beijing provides the reason for the government to wake up to the need of developing sport from infancy, then it's a blessing in disguise that we did not get a single gold medal.

This is no time for the South African Sports Confederation, Olympic Committee (Sascoc) and Athletics South Africa (ASA) to be defensive about Beijing, considering that if Sascoc were a private company its boss, Moss Mashishi, would be sacked.

And in an advanced democracy Stofile would be getting a dressing down in parliament.

Stofile will remember his own words when he was appointed Eastern Cape premier in 1997, when he declared his leadership period as the "year of the ox, where all shall work".

Reviving his own words as they strategise for the London Olympics in 2012 would be a wise move.

British prime minister Gordon Brown, who in an interview with Sky News offered to pump millions of pounds into school sport and schools of excellence, should spur us on to jump ahead and do likewise in our own sport development.

This is an area that Stofile himself identified as needing attention.

Lack of funding for school sport at regional, district and circuit levels is something that bedevilled the United School Sports Association of South Africa (Ussasa) all the way to its grave.

Yet sport codes such as chess, hockey, squash, tennis, basketball, volleyball, pole vaulting, badminton and athletic varieties remain only a dream for rural and township schools.

With South Africa historically obsessed with rugby, cricket and soccer, so many townships and villages have no gymnasiums, swimming pools or indoor sport facilities that are necessary to develop Olympic champions.

How do you explain the fact that no Olympic size facilities are available in this country, and that South Africa only starts preparing for the Games a few months before they start, and not four to eight years before?

That is why Dan Moyo, former chief of National Olympics Committee of SA, was unforgiving about our athletes' ill-preparedness for Beijing. He rapped our Olympic federations over the knuckles for not coming up with proper development programmes.

Moyo said an urgent review of sports programmes was needed ahead of the London Olympics.

SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande captured this bleak situation when he argued that South Africa had been "running on empty" for the last 14 years, especially in sport.

Nzimande said a white minority of three million managed to be internationally competitive in several codes including rugby, cricket, golf and to a lesser extent athletics, swimming and hockey.

"These successes were based essentially on a publicly funded comprehensive school-based system of leagues and coaching, and on excellent municipal facilities," Nzimande said.

"In some of these elite codes we are internationally competitive. Some black pupils and their families have access to these formerly white minority resources. But little has changed in rural areas, township schools and communities."

With our silver medallist Khotso Mokoena in mind, Nzimande asked what the point was of having a black long jump role model if, for the great majority of young black children, a track, let alone a coach, is nowhere to be found?

"Too much attention, including from our own comrades in parliament, has been focused on national team selection and on the interminable palace politics of national sports administration and squabbles over elite sponsorships and slices of the 2010 pie," Nzimande said.

According to Nzimande sports development is not a short-term matter of national team selection and palace politics but "part of a long-haul transformational struggle to build the cohesion and wellbeing of our society".

There is hope though, that the new director-general of sport and recreation, Xoliswa Sibeko will get things moving. Both her department and Department of Education are working together in terms of the "Framework of Collaboration" they signed regarding school sports and physical education.

Now is the time for Stofile to roll out sport facilities to black areas and to start cracking the whip if our athletes are to sail out of doldrums of poor performance and bring many gold medals in 2012.