Tshwete steps up push for change

South Africa still haunted by the past as official pressure grows on elite to help township projects; Iain Fletcher in Cape Town hears a minister raise the stakes
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The Independent Online
THE CONTROVERSY over selection policies for South African national teams was brought into sharp focus this week when Steve Tshwete, the South African Minister of Sport and Recreation, threatened recalcitrant sports federations with legislation.

Tshwete is so disappointed at the lack of effort shown by some federations and selectors in transforming their sports and fast-tracking non-white people into the national teams that he warned them that if there was no improvement he would seriously consider taking action.

"I will intervene where there is blatant discrimination on grounds of colour and race," Tshwete said. "Our multi-sports teams regrettably do not contain female and black participants in acceptable proportions. At this rate I am not sure how long I will be able to resist the temptation to legislate in this regard. It is, however, up to the selectors in the various national federations to make legislation in this regard unnecessary."

He did, however, praise the national federations, whom he has been meeting since the start of the year, for admitting that mistakes had been made. "I have met the presidents of 18 national federations, where I explained why I was impatient with progress to date," Tshwete said. "I am happy to report that not only did they commit to hasten the pace but they will also speak out in support of these sentiments in future."

While the national administrators take much of the blame, it is in the provinces, according to Tshwete, that the main stumbling block to non-whites representing South Africa lies.

"If the players are not playing at provincial level, it is difficult for the national selectors to select them," Tshwete said. "Provincial selection remains one of the last remnants of apartheid in this country."

When Tshwete first said he would be unable to support single-race sides, his comment was aimed at rugby and cricket and with both those sports in their World Cup year and South Africa among the favourites in each, his comments have stirred passionate reactions.

Cricket has taken steps to redress this imbalance and from next season a strict quota system will be enforced at provincial level. The number of provincial sides has been increased from nine to eleven and in every first-class and one-day game at least one non-white player will be required in each side. The provinces are allowed only 17 players under contract, and the United Cricket Board will administer a "pool" of players of all races which the provinces will dip into to select their squads. Furthermore, the chief executive officers of the 11 provinces have entered a gentleman's agreement with the UCB to get up to 22 non-white players in the system as opposed to the bare minimum of 11.

Rugby also has a quota system in the Vodacom Cup, one level below the provincial Currie Cup and two below the Super 12. Provinces with a greater number of black players will have to field three at all times, while the others will have to field two. However, there is discontent among some black rugby followers that there are very few black people in Super 12 squads or even close to them.

While Tshwete is eager to ensure that South Africa puts its sports in order, he has also been troubled on a broader front by the wide-ranging effects of the International Olympic Committee bribery scandal. Cape Town failed in its bid to host the 2004 Olympics but Tshwete insisted that, "our house is clean - very clean". But he also said: "Some of those groups mentioned wanted things from us and I said no."

And he was disturbed that some of the accusations are flying rather too close to home. "I understand that a new list of IOC members allegedly implicated in corruption is about to be released and we hope that this one will not be dominated by members of the African sports movement," he said.

Tshwete would rather concentrate on more pressing issues that will impact on South Africa's future place in the world of sport. He called upon the private sector to help build the infrastructure for sporting events ahead of bids, rather than for them, and he admitted that South Africa would probably not be ready to stage the Olympics until after 2010.

He did, however, support the country's bid to host the 2003 cricket World Cup and he strongly endorsed the bid for football's World Cup. "I am convinced the soccer World Cup is ready for this continent and this country to take it in 2006."

As long as South African sport is ready for the 21st century, of course.