Sports awards:

If you don’t like it, lump it – Mbalula

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SUN­DAY marks our fourth year of Na­tional Sports Awards (NSA). The event cel­e­brates South Africa’s top sports stars, but some do won­der whether it’s a waste of tax­pay­ers’ money.

LEBOGANG SEALE: Are you sat­is­fied with the progress so far? Do you think the event is achiev­ing its ob­jec­tives?

FIK­ILE MBALULA: The NSA is a cul­mi­na­tion of the ini­tia­tive to en­sure that we hon­our the work of our ath­letes who ex­cel in their re­spec­tive sport­ing codes. That bar we set for our­selves was to en­sure that it be­comes a mega event that cel­e­brates our sport­ing he­roes. I think we have done well so far and are on course to achieve what we sought to. I am happy with the progress so far.

LS: There are con­cerns that the sports awards are not giv­ing much recog­ni­tion to smaller sports like netball and hockey.

FM: The sports awards have been a plat­form for the sport­ing codes that are not recog­nised. If you talk about su­per­stars like Chad le Clos in swimming, the first plat­form through which they got to be known as rook­ies was the sports awards. We have also given a plat­form to those women who have not been known in pro­fes­sional sports. So, it’s re­ally a big plat­form and cel­e­bra­tion of sports com­mu­ni­ties in gen­eral.

LS: Part of the crit­i­cism has been that the event is elit­ist and ex­clu­sive, which is evinced by the fact that it is staged in up­mar­ket, ex­clu­sive venues like Sand­ton City and Sun City Su­per Bowl.

FM: A lot of things have been said about the sports awards, from ex­pen­di­ture to ev­ery­thing. I don’t think the sports awards must be dif­fer­ent from other sim­i­lar events in their make-up. They must be big­ger, mega, glam­orous and bril­liant in hon­our­ing per­son­al­i­ties who have ex­celled in var­i­ous sport­ing codes. I don’t un­der­stand why we have the awards for the mu­si­cians and not awards for the sports peo­ple.

LS: But surely you can make it a truly peo­ple’s event by tak­ing it to the town­ships too. Is that an op­tion?

FM: The ques­tion of venue is not what we are mar­ried to. We can even have it in heaven. The most im­por­tant thing is how we make it big­ger and bet­ter. But over and above, we have asked the me­dia to look at its value. Talk about a young­ster who has been nom­i­nated, who they are, where are they from and build­ing the na­tion. How much we spent is not re­ally the essence.

LS: Is the NSA a lav­ish and ex­trav­a­gant af­fair?

FM: Look, I have been ac­cused of all sorts of things, tested to the limit and at­tacked by the most back­ward and re­ac­tionary peo­ple who want to get at me through the sports awards. They make all sorts of ac­cu­sa­tions that I am ex­trav­a­gant with the sports awards. Th­ese ac­cu­sa­tions are un­sub­stan­ti­ated. LS: Oh re­ally? FM: Like I said, I have been ac­cused of ev­ery­thing, even the slight­est thing about Bey­oncé. I nearly be­came Bey­oncé, in terms of chang­ing my sur­name be­cause I sim­ply said one time that we are look­ing at invit­ing her to come to the awards. I have been sin­gled out and at­tacked for that prob- ably be­cause I spent tax­pay­ers’ money and that gives peo­ple the li­cence to ques­tion what I am do­ing. But I have never made it a se­cret that I want to make the sports awards the No 1 sport­ing event.

LS: Me­dia re­ports claimed it cost about R65m to host last year’s event, of which R21m came from tax­pay­ers.

FM: I have long clar­i­fied that it was a con­fig­ured fig­ure by my po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents who want to be popular and fa­mous in Par­lia­ment and they used that fig­ure. They have ac­tu­ally con­nived to ques­tion the sports awards, the fig­ures, who get the ten­ders.

LS: There were also re­ports that a company with no trace­able web­site or VAT num­ber was awarded an R18m con­tract.

FM: I have also clar­i­fied that to say there was never such a thing. If it is that I was cor­rupt, the au­di­tor-gen­eral would have found out. But I have met my mil­len­nium de­vel­op­ment goals in terms of Op­er­a­tion Clean Au­dit. We have given back so much to the na­tion in terms of so­cial co­he­sion through this ini­tia­tive, yet we are ex­pected to or­gan­ise a small baby shower in some cor­ner and call it sports awards.

No! The sports awards can­not be mea­sured in terms of fi­nan­cial re­sources.

We have al­ways asked the me­dia to say look, for us the value is, talk about the young­ster who has been nom­i­nated, where are they from, who they are. Talk about na­tion build­ing.

LS: So, there is a cam­paign to dis­credit you through the sports awards?

FM: You know, with most of the peo­ple who want to at­tack Mbalula about ev­ery­thing, their best out­let is the sports awards. I have been sin­gled out and at­tacked.

Yet we spend money on golf days that are never watched by any­body. I have been at­tacked by many at the pe­riph­ery who have noth­ing to do with sport.

Th­ese peo­ple have an agenda to an­ni­hi­late me po­lit­i­cally… That is why I want to change gear be­cause I think I am or­gan­is­ing th­ese awards di­rectly as the min­istry. LS: What do you mean? FM: To ba­si­cally give them to Sas­coc (SA Sports Con­fed­er­a­tion and Olympic Com­mit­tee) in the next com­ing year, and then Sas­coc will raise funds. We will sup- port them. Maybe there they might find peace. I have not at­tracted any pri­vate sec­tor support. At the end, the bur­den of run­ning the sports awards falls on me.

Prob­a­bly when they are there in the hands of Sas­coc, they will be able to bring loads of money.

At the mo­ment, I don’t want to lie, the main spon­sor is the Depart­ment of Sports and Recre­ation.

All I need is to get more pri­vate sec­tor support for the awards.

LS: Fair enough. But there are also con­cerns around the se­lec­tion cri­te­ria for nom­i­nees and the vot­ing sys­tem to de­cide the ul­ti­mate win­ners. Are peo­ple just be­ing cyn­i­cal?

FM: I don’t think the peo­ple are be­ing cyn­i­cal. Some are rais­ing it from a point of view of con­struc­tive crit­i­cism, which we think the panel will have to look into and ad­vise the min­is­ter. But there are those who are just clown­ing around, in terms of wa­ter­ing it down. LS: So what do you sug­gest? FM: I think we need to en­sure that we bring new fea­tures into the cri­te­ria, so that every­body can par­tic­i­pate. One of the things we need to look into is gen­der im­bal­ance.

But fed­er­a­tions must nom­i­nate, they are the peo­ple who are key to the nom­i­na­tion process.

I think the panel and the fed­er­a­tions have done well over the years.

PIC­TURE: QUINN ROONEY / GETTY IMAGES

RECOG­NI­TION: Chad le Clos, seen here com­pet­ing at the Glas­gow 2014 Com­mon­wealth Games on July 29, got to be known as a rookie when he won at the Na­tional Sport Awards, says Sports Min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula.

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