Though he believes they are still on the safe side, sports minister Nathi Mthethwa admits government is walking a fine line between assisting the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) and potentially interfering in the umbrella body’s affairs.
Following the release of a damning report into the Sascoc leadership last year, government had instructed the Olympic body to follow various recommendations made by a ministerial inquiry which had been led by retired judge Ralph Zulman.
Mthethwa admitted they had become frustrated with the organisation’s failure to act with haste, but the sports ministry could place Sascoc in jeopardy if it overstepped its bounds, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) having previously warned that government interference could result in the country’s suspension from the Olympic movement.
“It must be emphasised that the conciliatory approach is not to be seen as a sign of weakness but as an honest desire for government’s efforts not to be seen as interference in sport,” Mthethwa said at Sascoc’s annual general meeting in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Mthethwa had met three times with the Sascoc board since he replaced former sports minister Tokozile Xasa in May, and he had appointed a compliance task team to fast track the implementation of the Zulman Inquiry recommendations.
The Zulman Inquiry found that Sascoc was failing with regards to corporate governance, while disputes had apparently rendered the executive committee dysfunctional and the organisation’s constitution needed to be amended.
While the Sascoc council had agreed to institute a forensic audit going back five years, as well as an internal process to rectify non-compliance of corporate governance principles, it had raised concerns with some of the recommendations made by the Zulman Inquiry, which were approved by Xasa.
“South Africans look to Sascoc to ensure that our most important asset in the sporting landscape, the athlete, is placed in the forefront of all that they do, and the expectation is that our athletes must be provided with as many opportunities and requisite support as possible within their (Sascoc’s) means,” Mthethwa said.
“The ministerial inquiry into the affairs of Sascoc was a clear indication that unless the recommendations were implemented, the trust that had been broken because of the damning findings would not be restored, and the negative climate cannot be good for the country’s Olympic athletes.”
Though R54 million was required to prepare and send teams to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo next year, outgoing Sascoc president Gideon Sam admitted the embattled organisation was struggling to secure sufficient funding.
With the SA team’s hopes seemingly resting on a grant from the National Lotteries Commission, Sam said they were unlikely to convince Lotto to release the funds unless certain boxes had been ticked, and it was crucial to ensure the Sascoc constitution had been amended and approved by government.
“The message we have received is that if we are able to sort out these things that money will be made available, so we are not panicking,” said Sam, who was set to step down at the end of December after reaching the 70-year age limit for a seat on the Sascoc board.
“But it all depends on how long it takes us to finish this process.”
Mthethwa hoped the Sascoc AGM, most of which was closed to the media, would be able to resolve some of the outstanding concerns.
“I look forward to hearing how you intend to get out of this situation,” Mthethwa told the Sascoc council.
“Without a plausible explanation it will be difficult for me to ask my department to commit more funds to the organisation.”