The issues are ‘very profound’: Willemse speaks as SuperSport investigation begins
Ashwin Willemse‚ the main character in a crisis at SuperSport after he staged a walkout on air over dissatisfaction with his co-presenters‚ said the issue was “very profound”.
He directed pointed comments at fellow former Springboks Naas Botha and Nick Mallett‚ as he walked off set following the Lions versus Brumbies match last Saturday. Willemse‚ a former Springbok wing who played 19 Tests and was a member of the 2007 World Cup winning squad‚ claimed he “can't work with people who undermine other people”.
In a stunning monologue following a commercial break after the match‚ Willemse let fly at co-presenters Mallett and Botha.
“I’ve been in the game for a long time like most of us here‚” Willemse said. “As a player‚ I’ve been called a quota for a long time and I’ve worked very hard to earn the respect I have now. “I’m not going to sit here and be patronised by these two individuals (Mallett and Botha) who played their rugby during the apartheid era‚ a segregated era.” Willemse’s comments hinted at racial bias‚ but that was denied on Monday. SuperSport launched a full investigation into the incident and interviewed all three men‚ as well as presenter Motshidisi Mohono‚ on Monday.
Meetings were also conducted with Anthony Banks‚ the director‚ and Mandla Ntsibande‚ the producer‚ who worked on the night. But in a terse statement‚ Willemse made it clear the issue ran much deeper for him.
“We had robust discussions in which I aired my views‚” Willemse said. “I’m very appreciative of the process undertaken by SuperSport. The complexity of the issues is very profound.” According to company CEO Gideon Khobane‚ Mallett and Botha were not guilty of being racist. “We are positive that this was not a racially motivated issue because all parties were very courteous during our discussions that started this morning‚” Khobane said.
The meetings were apparently positive and cordial with the presenters engaging directly with one another. There was a significant move in the parties finding common ground.
“I appreciated the opportunity to air my views. Clearly there are issues that must be grappled with. I am more than happy to collaborate and contribute to resolving this matter‚” Mallett said.
The ‘issues’ referred to appear to be a personality clash between Mallett and Willemse in particular. That is not uncommon among an expert panel of former players.
“What we’ve always encouraged on our platforms is for panelists to engage in robust debate. We don’t think it’s a racially motivated issue‚ because if it were‚ it would be easier to come to a solution‚” Khobane said.
“They have requested a bit of time. We don’t want to force anybody to divulge how they are feeling deep inside‚ as it is a very emotional issue. All three need a bit of time to reflect on what happened. You can imagine that the past 48 hours has been a crazy whirlwind. They haven’t been able to sleep‚ eat or engage with their families.”
Botha added: “This was a first meeting and we all had our say‚ which was helpful. We’ve invested in a process to resolve matters and I’m confident that we will get a satisfactory resolution.”