Chairman of South African sports committee puts race over sporting abilities

07.05.2007

By Marie V. Thesbjerg
South African sports committee takes drastic measure against rugby team in order to pay attention to racial composition in the transformation process.

As a new sports bill in South Africa goes to Parliament, the chairman of the parliamentary sports committee, Butana Komphela has threatened South Africa’s Springbok Rugby team with the withdrawal of players’ passports ahead of the World Cup in France later this year, if the team does not show tangible signs of transformation. Komphela, warned that this worst-case scenario would be necessary if there were not at least six black players in the World Cup squad.

“In principle, we can't allow a team that does not reflect the South African picture to represent our country,” Komphela was quoted in the South African newspaper Beeld.

"My fear is that rugby won't see the World Cup. We will try to convince the minister of home affairs to confiscate their passports if the team is not representative," Komphela said during a discussion about the National Sport and Recreation Amendment Bill, which was approved in March by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Sport and Recreation.

The Bill provides for additional ministerial powers to intervene in sporting disputes and the issuing of guidelines for the promotion of equity, representativity and redress in sport and recreation.

“If it comes to the crunch, we will withdraw their passports. Sporting codes cannot undermine government goals,” Komphela said to the South African newspaper Cape Argus.

However, the Department of Home Affairs said it had no power to withhold passports.

Cleo Mosana, a spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Nosi-viwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said that her minister did not have the power to withhold passports. The issuing of passports "was not a privilege, but a right that is protected in the constitution", she said.

Lack of black players
The relationship between the sport and the South African government has been strained for years due to the lack of black players in the national teams. More than a dozen years after the end of apartheid, and South Africa's victory in the 1995 World Cup, the proportion of black players to white has been slow to transform.

The SA Rugby Union (SARU) has raised concerns about the move to issue representativity guidelines to sports bodies, adding that it is baffled by comments made by Komphela that question the body's commitment to transformation.

"We are in partnership with the government. There won't be any problems with a representative team going to the World Cup," said SARU vice president Koos Basson, emphasising that national team selectors were in no way near finalising the squad.

Meanwhile the opposition called for Komphela to be sacked. The District Attorney complained about Komphela’s remarks as being ‘unconstitutional', claiming he puts race over sporting abilities and merit, according to the newspaper Pretoria News.

Politics clash with sporting bodies
The government’s interference in sport could mean a clash with sporting bodies and international repercussions if the Springboks are to be prevented from representing South Africa at the World Cup.

The party Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) spokesperson, Werner Weber, challenged Komphela to "follow through on his threat".

If government, or the specific department, should indeed decide to take Komphela's threat seriously and withdraw the passports, government could prepare itself for a new international sport boycott, because this would be against international sporting codes, he said according to South African Press Association.

Civil rights group Afriforum said government interference in sport could result in South Africa's isolation from international sport.

Afriforum CEO Kallie Kriel said in a statement Komphela should be aware that the Charter of the International Olympic Committee expressly prohibited "political abuse of sport", as well as all forms of discrimination in sport.

The Bill will be discussed in the National Assembly on 16 May after which it will be sent to the NCOP, upon whose approval it will be signed by the President by mid-June.

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