Fearless defender of sport

29 August 2013 - 02:43 By David Isaacson
Gideon Sam during a Sascoc press briefing at Olympic House in Houghton
Gideon Sam during a Sascoc press briefing at Olympic House in Houghton

There once was a local administrator who stood up and publicly took on two of the most powerful men in South African sport.

Sport Minister Ngconde Balfour and Sam Ramsamy, then the president of the National Olympic Committee of SA (Nocsa), were big cheeses back then in mid-2003.

The administrator didn't name Ramsamy, who by that point had headed up the SA chapter of the Olympic movement for more than a decade, but there was no mistaking his target.

"To avoid a situation where people make sport structures their fiefdom, it should be common cause that you should not take more than two terms in office. Let us save our sport from dictatorships by refusing to have offices that are terminated by death only," he told the general assembly of the now-defunct Sports Commission.

In the same speech, the administrator waded into Balfour for "castrating" the Sports Commission, a body which had been established by the erstwhile Sport Minister Steve Tshwete to deal with various delicate issues.

One particular problem had been the jostling between Nocsa and the old National Sports Council, a non-governmental body in charge of local sport, which was subsequently replaced by the commission.

"The new pharaoh [Balfour], who knew Joseph not, did not see things that way. We saw a systematic castration of the Sports Commission that has rendered it very ineffective."

The same administrator carried on bashing Balfour over the delay of a new sports plan which had been recommended in the wake of an investigation into South Africa's poor performance at the 2000 Olympics.

Team SA had returned from Sydney with five medals, but the perceived bad showing was the failure to win a single gold.

The sports plan eventually became reality in late 2004 with the formation of the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), a merger of macro-bodies like Nocsa, the Sports Commission and other bodies, including the SA Commonwealth Games Association and Disability Sport SA.

This Saturday is the Sascoc AGM where the heads of member federations - from swimming and rugby to jukskei and chess - can call Sascoc to account.

There are fear-mongers who whisper that nobody can ask potentially awkward questions without facing the terrible wrath of the vindictive Sascoc. These same concerns were raised in the days of Nocsa.

It seems unthinkable that there are elected leaders of individual federations who are too comfortable, or pusillanimous, to voice what needs to be said. Such people are surely not worthy of their positions. South African sport doesn't need cowards.

If you believe the fear-mongers you would expect that the administrator who took on Balfour and Ramsamy would have disappeared quickly from sport.

But he didn't. He lived to fight many more battles, and he is still at war - although he is wearing a different set of boots.

He is Gideon Sam, now in his second and final term as Sascoc president.