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