So says Fikile Mbalula the sports minister and one of the more extraordinary people on a South African political scene that regularly shifts into the realm of the bizarre.
South Africans, like people in most other nations, have widely differing views on just what government should be doing and how well they are doing it, but the nation, almost as a whole, seems to be clamouring for more support for sport in the wake of the feel-good factor generated by the Olympics.
Sascoc initially set a target of 12 medals for the London Olympics, but given that the previous Games brought just a solitary silver medal for Khotso Mokoena in the long jump, nobody who was in their right minds believed that was likely.
Instead, the 2012 Olympics produced three golds, two silver and one bronze medal; and the target of 12 medals has now been allocated to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
So who is going to be responsible and – that most un-South African concept – accountable for ensuring there are a dozen medals being paraded around O.R. Tambo International Airport in four years’ time?
Sascoc CEO Tubby Reddy admits that his organisation have the responsibility of ensuring sporting success.
“It’s very clear who the custodian of sport in South Africa is – it’s Sascoc. But we need to engage with government, the Department of Sport and the provinces.
“We cannot plan for 2016 if our funding is only annual. We need a cycle of funding and to build the most sustainable program going forward, we need government, the lottery and corporates.
“The minister of finance does not talk about sport, but we will go to Pravin Gordhan. We will push the politicians to unlock the resources. I understand there are other priorities, but sport is nation-building and it deserves some slice,” Reddy told the Mail and Guardian.
Mbalula is adamant that government has to find some money in its budget for sport.
“Government has got to come to the party. We need to support the young child in Gugulethu and Mitchell’s Plain, that’s what the Sports Plan is about, giving more than R1 billion. But the people need to put government under pressure to invest in sport so that we can compete with the likes of Australia,” Mbalula said.
The new Sports Plan will be launched on October 20. The high performance components of SA sport have been under the control of Sascoc for a while now, but the new dispensation will see the establishment of a national plan that will need to be implemented in all the provinces, while the government will look after sport at the school and grassroots levels.
“The national agenda needs to dictate the provincial pathway, it’s like the Springbok coach always says, he wants everyone playing the same way,” Reddy said. “The plan will also include the provincial academies, which for five or six years have been all over the place, and the coaching framework.
“The school sport plan has not worked for many years, physical education is out of the curriculum and what is taught in life orientation skills is just not the same. It took the two ministers [sport and education] longer than envisaged to decide how the new process would work, but Minister Mbalula has the passion, nothing is impossible with him, and he has the drive.”
Of course, part of the reason for the improved medal haul this year from one to 12 was the increased financial support from corporate South Africa. Companies like Sasol, Nedbank, Vodacom and SAB have a long history of backing sport, but there have been some strident voices out there calling on them to give more, because it’s “payback time”.
Such arrogance can only murder the golden goose and, as it is, the confidence of corporate South Africa in sports administrators is not exactly of the highest order.
According to some public critics, the tracks of the government gravy train also reach the offices of Sascoc in Melrose and there is obviously something of a power struggle going on between the organisation and some of the national federations.
“With due respect to the federations, they are not always right when it comes to their talent identification and we have to verify a lot of their submissions. We can’t go to the Olympic Games and wonder if we’re going to get medals, so we have to work together with the national federations,” Reddy said.
The Chinese approach of centralised control is obviously the template Mbalula favours.
“We must do what China do. We can’t compete with them, but we can replicate what they do within our limits. This one-off talent identification is a killer. There must be a process, from when the athletes are school kids,” Mbalula said.
The selection process for Rio could well begin as early as next year …
“In 2013 we must roll out the best of the best, set the standards and eliminate those who can’t reach them. We can’t wait for the sports plan to take effect for the next Olympics, we need to start now,” the sports minister stated.
The South African sports-loving fraternity will hope the minister’s words are backed by the wallet of government – the hard-earned taxes they themselves have paid.