Nick Mallett’s old gripe with Ashwin: ‘He talks rubbish’
Mallett had complained to SuperSport about having to work with Willemse, saying 'we irritate the hell out of each other' and alleging Ashwin had 'agendas'.
Ashwin Willemse during his on-air walkout.
SuperSport may have cleared Nick Mallett and Naas Botha of racism, following their investigation into the infamous Ashwin Willemse walkout, but the report into the incident shows there had been bad blood between Mallett and Willemse for more than a year.
The report by Advocate Vincent Maleka cites a letter allegedly sent to SuperSport executive producer Scott Steward in October 2016, in which Mallett expressed his dissatisfaction with having to work alongside Willemse.
“I really enjoy working with Bobs and Xola, Scott. Xola asks good questions and Bobs knows enough about rugby to produce interesting clips for discussion. Unlike with the complex Ashwin, there are no agendas,” the letter reads.
Mallett requested that Willemse be moved to a morning show, to avoid them having to work together, saying: “I think he talks garbage, we irritate the hell out of each other and the working environment is just unpleasant and tense.
“I am very happy to work with Breyton, Shimmy or Bobs instead, as, unlike with Ashwin, I respect their hard work and rugby opinions.”
In September last year, Mallett also wrote to SuperSport consultant Malcolm Russel, reiterating his pleasure at working with several other analysts.
The report then carries on to explain the off-air banter, which preceded the walk-off, and Mallett and Botha’s descriptions of their agreement that Willemse would be afforded more time at the beginning of the fateful segment, in order to give his views on the preceding game, since a timing error had led to him being cut short.
Mallett told Maleka they had no idea Willemse may have been upset with them, and had been courteous and jocular throughout the break leading into the segment.
On page 15 of the report, it is noted that “Willemse is aggrieved by what happened on May 19, 2018, and considers racism to have inspired the conduct of his colleagues”.
It also mentions a letter from Willemse’s attorneys, insisting Willemse was of the view that “racism was the cause of the incident and the narrative perpetuated by SuperSport that there was no racism reinforces his view and infringes his human rights and dignity”.
This refers to the May 21 statement by MultiChoice and SuperSport bosses Gideon Khobane and Calvo Malewa that racism did not play a part in the incident.
According to the report, Khobane and Malewa had met with all the roleplayers in the days following the walk-off, and had prepared a statement to that effect. Willemse, however, refused to sign.
Despite this, the two responded to a question from the media, denying racism in the incident.
Willemse refused to participate in the investigation.
His attorneys described the review process as “an attempt to administer a balm (of some sort) to injuries inflicted upon Mr Willemse’s rights”.
SuperSport looking to keep trying
SuperSport have downplayed fears over a potential backlash.
Gideon Khobane, chief executive of the broadcaster, yesterday confirmed the former Springbok wing “declined” to be interviewed or provide any input for the independent investigation into his sensational studio walkout last month.
While Botha and Mallett will be seen on television screens again in the near future, Willemse’s future remains uncertain.
The 37-year-old is still under contract at SuperSport but his continued reluctance to engage will raise questions over whether the broadcaster has handled the issue effectively – especially as Maleka acknowledges that his report is “impoverished” without Willemse’s input.
“I wouldn’t want to preempt what would happen if we weren’t able to come to an agreement,” said Khobane. “We’ve been very reconciliatory in our approach because we know what a complex and sensitive issue this is. We, personally, still want to understand how he feels.”
Willemse had indicated, through his legal representatives, that he felt the independent probe was not an appropriate forum to “redress the infringement on his human rights and his dignity”.
“We’ve done what we can as a business in appointing a reputable, independent individual to conduct the review and also referring our report to the Human Rights Commission of South Africa,” said Khobane.
“By continuing to engage with Ashwin, we can also determine what forum he believes would be appropriate.”