OPINION: Transformation in cricket-Nathi Mthethwa’s bite must match his bark
We’ve seen this movie all too often before in South Africa – a Sports Minister comes along and promises to take action against federations who refuse to enact real transformation in their code.
On Monday afternoon, Nathi Mthethwa – the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture – hosted a press conference in Pretoria to talk about the latest funding mechanisms available to athletes and artists alike to assist during the Covid-19-enforced lockdown.
But he was also asked about the mess that is Cricket South Africa at the moment, following the resignation of president Chris Nenzani, and the heaps of cries from former players and coaches about the discrimination that they have experienced over the last few decades.
Nenzani was due to explain what had happened to an independent forensic report, which had been supposedly completed a few weeks ago, to Mthethwa on Monday as part of the Cricket SA meeting with the Minister, but was nowhere to be seen as he had jumped ship last Friday.
This no doubt incensed Mthethwa, who expressed his disappointment with everything going wrong in cricket at the moment. “Today, I had asked to meet them, particularly on the issues – which had been raised by ex-cricket players – of systemic racism in cricket. We have just finished the meeting with them 30 minutes ago,” the Minister stated.
“I explained to them that, first and foremost, racism – if it’s proven to be true – is not going to be tolerated by government. We are not going to be friendly to that kind of a situation.
“We want to go deeper into these issues, because as I explained to them (Cricket SA), I did meet with the ex-players themselves, who expressed how this covert racism manifests itself at cricket… who expressed how some of them, how their dreams were shattered as young athletes at the hands of some of the administrators, and others who are still around with allegations and counter-allegations.”
Mthethwa made it clear that he wanted to see steps taken to solve the issues within the sport. “We’ve said to Cricket South Africa that we want, on these very key issues – whether it’s unequal pay for the players, whether it’s the failure to bridge the gap on the basis of culture, race and so on – for us, we want to get a clear indication (as to) how they are going to deal with that,” he said.
“I’ve put it to them that they will have to explain how they are going to deal with the problem of having, both in the field and in administration, that at the core of sport and cricket – where you have five key people there, and these five people are, all of them bar one, white males.
“And I said to them clearly that has to change, and change fast, because it cannot be argued that it’s only white men who would be having a monopoly of talent, capability and skills to lead cricket.
“These were some of the things we put to them, and we did say that we would be watching. Two weeks from now would be a clear indication as to whether it is just lip service, or… By the way, we’ve met about 12 federations so far, and all of them say ‘We are against racism’.”
That is all good and well, but what Mthethwa finished off with was the most interesting part. He mentioned that government “do have tools” to enforce transformation in sport – something that some of his predecessors, most notably Fikile Mbalula, has stated before.
In 2016, Mbalula banned cricket, rugby, netball and athletics from bidding to host global events for failing to meet their own transformation targets in accordance with the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) report on transformation.
But ultimately, the SA Rugby Union were able to bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup (which was unsuccessful), while Netball South Africa will be hosting the 2023 Netball World Cup in Cape Town, despite continuing transformation challenges.
Some of the tools Mthethwa has at his disposal include:
* Suspending or withdrawing government funding to the said federation due to non-compliance;
* Withdrawing government’s recognition of a particular federation as a National Federation and publishing said decision in the Government Gazette;
* Revoking the privilege of a federation to host and bid for major and mega international tournaments in the Republic and withdrawing recognition of the said federation;
* Withdrawing a federation’s opportunity to be awarded national colours via Sascoc (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) to players who participate under the auspices of that particular federation in order to represent the Republic internationally and nationally;
* Terminating the relationship and any co-operation between SRSA and the said federation due to non-compliance; and
* Withdrawing political support and endorsements for sponsorships.
“The irony about this is that we come from a past as a country where racism was in the statute books, supported by racists, and you wonder today, where are those people who supported that, because everyone is saying ‘We are against racism’,” Mthethwa said.
“We don’t buy what people say. We are eager to accelerate transformation. We are eager to want to see, indeed, people moving to implement what they say they want to do.
“I made it abundantly clear that if we have to enforce transformation in sport, we are going to do that. As government, we do have tools. That’s not where we start – we say we have been talking for the past 26 years, and some of these talks are just fruitless talks.
“We have a conference fatigue. We’ve had commissions in sport. We’ve had summits, conferences, imbizos, everything – it is now time to act.
And we want people to move, and if they don’t move, we are going to help them to move, with speed, in transformation.”
The time for talking is well and truly over when it comes to the lack of transformation in South African sport.
When it comes to cricket, the harrowing tales from the likes of Ashwell Prince, Makhaya Ntini, Faiek Davids, Thami Tsolekile and others need to be properly dealt with by Cricket SA, while a transparent blueprint for the future of the sport in providing equal opportunities to all players and coaches must be devised.
And that doesn’t only mean having people of colour in CSA leadership positions such as president and chief executive. It needs to be people with the right mentality as well – not someone like Nenzani, who admitted on Robert Marawa’s radio show last week that not appointing Geoffrey Toyana as the Proteas coach in 2017 was a “missed opportunity”.
If that doesn’t happen going forward, will Mthethwa’s bite match his bark? The only way transformation will be truly implemented is if there are real consequences for defaulters…