665 03/09/2012 The Minister of Sport and Recreation, Fikile Mbalula is seen at the launch of the SA Sports Awards at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. Picture: Ihsaan Haffejee

Johannesburg -

It’s time to celebrate sporting excellence in SA – but without Beyoncé Knowles.

Speaking to The Star ahead of Monday night’s televised launch of the SA sports awards on the SABC, Minister Fikile Mbalula was unabashed at the furore his ministry’s suggestion sparked earlier this year.

“Our athletes deserve to be recognised, they deserve a special place in the hearts of the people, and this is what the South African sports awards are about.”

The awards, which include a grand prize of R1 million in cash and a BMW sportscar for the sportsman of the year, as well as cash and trophies for the category winners, ranging from R100 000 to R200 000 in cash, are intended to be the highlight of the sporting year.

“This is why we dropped the Beyoncé idea. It became politicised, funny songs were being sung about it in [the ANC], there were distortions about pricing, wild rumours. In the end it made me think about what we were trying to achieve here,” Mbalula said.

The answer was to create a set of awards that all SA athletes would want to aspire to, that all South Africans would want to tune in to and be part of, and that would enable SA to recognise great role-models at the top of their game, to inspire the young sports stars of tomorrow.

Beyoncé, rumoured to be charging R17m to perform for an hour at the close of this year’s awards, had been part of the greater scheme to bring a touch of international glamour to an event the sports ministry hopes will be the benchmark for Africa.

Mbalula’s idea had been to use Beyoncé to perform at a concert beforehand featuring the best musicians and entertainers from the African diaspora and beamed to the rest of the world, with the proceeds – which he reckons could have been between R20m and R30m – being put into a sports trust.

As for Beyoncé’s fee, this would have been paid beforehand by corporate sponsors.

“The matter was blown out of proportion, so I made up my mind to cut it off right then. It wasn’t something worth pursuing.”

On Monday night, Mbalula launched the second series of the sports awards at a gala event at the FNB Stadium in Nasrec, south of Joburg.

There are 18 categories this year, recognising everyone from abled and disabled sportsmen and women, coaches, administrators, sports journalists and personalities to codes and federations – and a newcomer: school sports of the year.

The overall winner, the sportsman or woman of the year, will be decided by the public. Mbalula wants the awards to become to sport what SA Idols is to the discovery and recognition of local musical talent.

“There must be discussions, arguments at home, telephone calls between friends. Young people must get involved and follow the real superstars – and vote for them.”

Mbalula also announced the Andrew Mlangeni golf challenge, a competition that will be held in all nine provinces before the final play-off in Joburg, the day before the sports awards are held on Sunday, November 4.

“This is an innovation,” said Mbalula, “which will affirm those young players through our important partnership with [golf legend] Gary Player.”

Another innovation is the hall of fame. Mbalula announced the establishment of this on Monday night.

He explained it thus: “Every country has a hall of fame, but if you’re Cameron van der Burgh and you once won a medal in the Olympics, you must know that your name is engraved in the hall of fame.”

It follows on the award of the Andrew Mlangeni jacket – a green jacket modelled on the US Masters jacket – which was first awarded to local sporting legends last year at the inaugural sports awards.

“Sport is big in this country, but the athletes have never enjoyed the kind of recognition we want to give them,” said Mbalula.

He is pleased, too, about the prescience of last year’s awards, saying it shows just how relevant the awards are. “Last year’s high performers are the stars of today.”

Last year’s sportsman of the year was cricketer Hashim Amla, while Olympic gold medal swimmers Chad le Clos and Van der Burgh were also honoured.

“There is no better year to recognise our heroes than this year, with both the Olympics and Paralympics, and we’re going to do it at the Sandton convention centre on November 4 – the very place where we said goodbye to them before they went overseas to bring us glory.”

The Star