Mbalula is more a min­is­ter of dis­trac­tion than of sport

CityPress - - Sport - Simnikiwe Xabanisa sports@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Simx­a­ban­isa

My first and only Fik­ile Mbalula press con­fer­ence was about six years ago, when he was rel­a­tively new to his min­is­ter of sport gig.

Given that his press con­fer­ences are af­fairs in which a lot is said with­out it mak­ing a lot of sense, all I re­mem­ber of it was that he was an hour and a half late, and what­ever min­ion was his spokesper­son at the time asked those in the room to stand up when he walked in.

With him also hav­ing chris­tened him­self Mr Razzmatazz, an un­favourable first im­pres­sion was formed. On the face of it, he was ei­ther too busy or didn’t re­spect other peo­ple’s time (there was no apol­ogy for be­ing late), and clearly he was a very im­por­tant man.

So when I tried to fol­low his press con­fer­ence this week, in which he was to ex­plain how South Africa lost a one-horse race to host the 2022 Com­mon­wealth Games, it was hardly a sur­prise that he was re­port­edly al­most 90 min­utes late.

He then promptly did what he al­ways does when the brown stuff hits the fan – he took zero re­spon­si­bil­ity. When a coun­try spends R118 mil­lion to lose a sure thing be­cause there ap­pears to have been a mis­cal­cu­la­tion of how much it would cost to host the games and ba­sic dead­lines were missed, one would ex­pect some­one to take the blame.

But nei­ther Mbalula nor sport­ing body Sas­coc took re­spon­si­bil­ity, pre­fer­ring to spin the whole thing as if they were tak­ing a new-found stance on fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to save us all from waste­ful ex­pen­di­ture. This is from the same peo­ple who can’t ex­plain what the R118 mil­lion spent on sup­pos­edly bid­ding for an event Dur­ban won’t host in five years was ac­tu­ally spent on.

Then the real Mbalula kicked in. While most would have thought he had 118 mil­lion rea­sons to wind his neck in, he car­ried on his Twit­ter spat with sports pre­sen­ter Robert Marawa and – in a mas­sive about-turn – an­nounced his back­ing for South Africa to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The ir­ri­tat­ing thing about the Twit­ter spat with Marawa is that it is al­ways dressed up as a le­git­i­mate bat­tle for the soul of South African sport. Given that, up un­til a cou­ple of years ago, Marawa used to MC the SA Sports Awards – which is ef­fec­tively Mbalula’s per­sonal fief­dom – it’s more log­i­cal to sus­pect a per­sonal fall­ing out.

Cou­pled with the Marawa red herring, the in­ex­pli­ca­ble de­ci­sion to sup­port SA Rugby’s bid to host the 2023 cup neatly en­cap­su­lates how dis­trac­tion is an im­por­tant weapon in Mbalula’s ar­se­nal in run­ning the sports depart­ment.

If he is not dis­tracted by what is said about him on Twit­ter, or suf­fer­ing a case of the Twit­ter fin­gers him­self by block­ing said of­fend­ers, he is dis­tract­ing the South African pub­lic from what­ever clanger he’s dropped.

With Dur­ban los­ing its bid to host the Com­mon­wealth Games, is it too sin­is­ter to think that sud­denly en­dors­ing a bid to host a Rugby World Cup is a trans­par­ent ruse to help us for­get 2022-gate?

Mbalula’s de­ci­sion to un­ban rugby from bid­ding to host in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments was sup­posed to hinge on SA Rugby prov­ing that the or­gan­i­sa­tion had trans­formed. Mbalula must have his ear to the ground, be­cause the rest of us don’t see any changes on that front.

The sports min­istry seems to thrive on be­ing per­ceived to be do­ing some­thing in­stead of ac­tu­ally do­ing it, let alone prop­erly.

Quite how this equates to lead­er­ship, I don’t know. To be fair to Mbalula, the bar has never been high when it comes to the depart­ment . The ex­cep­tion was when the late Steve Tsh­wete held the po­si­tion. Hard but fair, Tsh­wete was a good ne­go­tia­tor, who came to be known as Mr Fixit be­cause of how tricky the en­vi­ron­ment was in South Africa at the time. Tsh­wete also struck you as some­one who ac­tu­ally loved sport, as that fa­mous pic­ture of his em­brace with Peter Kirsten at the 1992 Cricket World Cup showed.

Mbalula strikes you as a fair-weather sports fan, sid­ing with a “bunch of win­ners” one mo­ment and re­ject­ing “a bunch of losers” the next.

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