Inquiry into South African NOC reveals “complete chaos”
A ministerial investigation into corruption and mismanagement in the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), seeping through to various of the country's sports federations, is currently being carried out.
In August 2017, South African Minister of Sport and Recreation, Thulas Nxesi, ordered a ministerial inquiry into “alleged irregularities or malpractices in the governance and management of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC)” to be carried out by an appointed committee. The three-person committee has commenced their inquiry and is currently taking testimonies from various of the people involved in South African sports including the current and former leadership of the SASCOC around whom many of the allegations evolve.
Allegations focus on financial mismanagement and constitutional breaches, but also include allegations of sexual harassment, failure to act on reports of malpractice, fighting ‘personal and political battles’ within the organisation, racism and more. Many of the allegations are raised by and/or draw strings to various national sports federations including athletics, fitness and rugby.
The independent Zulman committee, named after the chairperson, former judge Ralph Zulman, is supposed to “enquire into, assess and report” on the allegations and recommend ways to and systems that can “eliminate deficiencies or shortcomings” in the SASCOC administration, the inquiry document says.
“During 2017, I became aware of various allegations of irregularities in the governance of SASCOC – both through the media and from approaches made by individuals and federations – which, if unchecked, would tarnish the image of SASCOC and sports in general. […] As Minister, I am obliged to act on such a matter,” said Nxesi in a talk to SASCOC board before the inquiry began.
A split in the SASCOC leadership
Media reports from the first week into the hearing, which started on 12 February, highlighted an ongoing conflict between two groupings within the leadership of the national Olympic body. One side is led by former CEO Tubby Reddy, who was suspended in August last year after accusations of sexual harassment, and another by current president, Gideon Sam.
The split culminated when Reddy, SASCOC’s chief financial officer, Vinesh Maharaj, and Jean Kelly, administrative employee, were dismissed after a disciplinary hearing held by the SASCOC board in December 2017.
Since then, the three dismissed officials have protested the accusations raised against them by the SASCOC board in three open letters to the SASCOC membership, referring to the accusations as “lies”. Instead, they list a number of cases in which they claim SASCOC president Sam Gideon and his leadership have been acting in breach of statutes. The letters call on the SASCOC membership to vote out Gideon and his board.
“Surely, you cannot allow these few individuals to destroy arguably what has been one of the best NOC’s in Africa and indeed many parts of the world,” one of the letters reads.
Rugby’s legal battles
But it is not only inside the Olympic committee that South African sport has seen problems in recent years. And one of the cases that will most likely come up during the inquiry is the two ongoing lawsuits involving rugby, one of the three most popular sports in the country.
South Africa Rugby (SARU) President Mark Alexander is currently suing journalist Greame Joffe for defamation after Joffe wrote stories about how Alexander allegedly accepted payments of R500,000 (approx. 35,000 euro) a year for a period of 5 years for securing an exclusive commercial agreement with South African sports marketing agency MegaPro.
In another legal case, Stellenbosch University has pressed charges against SARU’s CEO Jurie Roux in a civil suit for "manipulating" financial management systems to favour the school’s rugby club, which he was chairing while also holding a post as financial director of the university. According to Stellenbosch, Roux facilitated the channeling of R32 million (approx. 2.2 million euro) from the university to the Rugby club. Roux is denying the allegations.
18 testimonies and counting
Although Alexander is said to be a supporter of Tubby Reddy, something he denies, the rugby cases are not directly linked to the current Zulman inquiry and are not mentioned in the inquiry paper. The retired judge Zulman and his team will, however, take many other testimonies before the expected conclusion about the organisational climate in SASCOC is presented in three months’ time. So far, the committee has heard from 18 persons and will continue the inquiry this week.
“I get the impression, and I hope I’m wrong, that there is complete chaos in the affairs of SASCOC,” said Zulman, according to South African news site The Citizen.
“That’s not my final conclusion, obviously, which is why we will be sitting here for more days to see what’s going on, but every witness who has spoken to us has testified to the lack of organisation in the organisation, starting at the top.”
Sports minister Nxesi has threatened to dissolve the committee as a “last resort”, something that could entail sanctions from the IOC that does not allow government interference in sports organisations.