Dic­ta­to­rial sports of­fi­cials keep­ing our ath­letes si­lenced

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Ch­eryl Roberts

SPORT in South Africa is au­to­cratic. Demo­cratic pro­cesses of in­ter­ac­tion and dis­cus­sion between of­fi­cials and ath­letes are non-ex­is­tent.

Sports fed­er­a­tions aren’t only ad­min­is­tered but vi­ciously con­trolled by of­fi­cial­dom. Ath­letes and play­ers are forced to be quiet, have no voice and are treated as non-think­ing par­tic­i­pants.

Across the board, in all sports fed­er­a­tions, of­fi­cials are in­tol­er­ant of ath­letes’ voices. It’s not that of­fi­cial­dom doesn’t like ath­letes/play­ers to an­nounce their opin­ions. It’s about sports of­fi­cials be­ing the oli­garchi­cal bosses, de­mand­ing that ath­letes don’t have a voice. Sports of­fi­cials are es­pe­cially scared to have ath­letes/play­ers speak­ing out and chal­leng­ing of­fi­cial­dom.

With most sports fed­er­a­tions, be­fore an ath­lete gives an in­ter­view they must “get per­mis­sion” and this per­mis­sion is usu­ally from the fed­er­a­tion’s gate­keeper in the form of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions/me­dia per­son. Th­ese gate­keep­ers want to be present when the ath­lete is in­ter­viewed. They will tell you it’s to guard the ath­lete from be­ing mis­quoted or some­thing like that. But it’s re­ally to en­sure the ath­lete doesn’t “speak out of line”, ac­cord­ing to the sports fed­er­a­tion.

Par­tic­u­larly in the era of so­cial me­dia, ath­letes/play­ers are mon­i­tored and any­thing re­marked about or stated on so­cial me­dia that the fed­er­a­tion of­fi­cials don’t ap­prove of is im­me­di­ately and ag­gres­sively taken up with the ath­lete.

What are of­fi­cials afraid of ? Why are they rep­re­sent­ing sports of­fi­cial­dom as a dic­ta­tor­ship and dic­tated en­tity? Why are they so in­tent on con­trol­ling the minds, opin­ion and think­ing of ath­letes/play­ers and par­tic­i­pants?

Ath­letes aren’t only scared of of­fi­cials; they also can’t ques­tion or chal­lenge the ap­pointed coach for fear of be­ing dropped, not se­lected for a match or side­lined.

It’s not just about si­lenc­ing the voices of ath­letes. It’s also about en­sur­ing they have no crit­i­cal con­scious­ness. No po­lit­i­cal and so­cial jus­tice talk is al­lowed – not even en­cour­aged or sup­ported. Can you be­lieve this?

Ath­letes, play­ers and their coaches are ex­pected to train and take part in sport ac­cord­ing to how of­fi­cial­dom sets the rules and reg­u­la­tions. No dis­cus­sion or opin­ion is en­ter­tained or en­tered into. And the other gate­keep­ers are the em­ploy­ees in sports fed­er­a­tions, most of whom ad­min­is­ter sport from of­fices as if they own the sport, to­gether with the of­fi­cials.

Across all sports, ath­letes are trapped. They have voices that are si­lenced. Should they dare to speak out and give their opin­ions, they are sum­moned for dis­ci­plinary action by in­se­cure of­fi­cials who rule the sport as if they own it.

Com­pet­i­tive sport is fiercely com­pet­i­tive with se­lec­tion be­ing highly chal­lenged and con­tested. With no ath­lete want­ing to jeop­ar­dise their se­lec­tion chances, they keep quiet, speak­ing out only to close friends and con­tacts about their un­hap­pi­ness, chal­lenges and griev­ances.

The play­ers and ath­letes get frus­trated. They want to ask ques­tions. They want an­swers. They have ideas about how sport can bet­ter de­liver for ath­letes’ par­tic­i­pa­tion. Coaches dom­i­nate their think­ing and be­hav­iour. Of­fi­cials si­lence them. There are no pro­cesses for ath­letes to speak out and chal­lenge. They get told to take up chal­lenges and griev­ances through their clubs and pro­vin­cial struc­tures.

How­ever, it’s in th­ese very sports con­fines that ath­letes are si­lenced.

If ath­letes and play­ers knew their power they would stand to­gether, across all sports, and boy­cott of­fi­cial­dom.

The con­trol of ath­letes’ voices is not only un­healthy for sport, it’s also un­bear­able. Ath­letes must be al­lowed to speak with­out fear of be­ing vic­timised, dis­ci­plined, sus­pended or ex­pelled. Dic­ta­tors, au­to­cratic and oli­garchi­cal of­fi­cials are harm­ing sport.

They can’t ques­tion or chal­lenge for fear of be­ing dropped

Cape Town

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