So Many Questions on transformation in sport

01 May 2016 - 02:00 By Chris Barron

Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula says he won’t let federations bid to host international events because of a lack of transformation. Chris Barron asked sport scientist Ross Tucker, named by the same Mbalula as one of the ’100 most influential people in sport’...

Will this have the desired effect?

No, because most of the sports aren’t equipped to fulfil that mandate.

Does he know that?

I’m not sure what the minister of sport knows or what he thinks he knows.

How badly does the government want to address the problem, do you think?

I think the sports federations are probably very interested in addressing the problem because there are commercial and performance and social benefits attached to doing it. But I’m not sure they’re committed to the cost it would take.


Do they have the money?

Most of them don’t. And so they’re in the position of saying, “How can we even do what we’ve been asked to?”

Have they got a point?

Yes, they do. I’d hate to be in that situation. They’re under-resourced and incapable. They lack the capacity.

So isn’t it totally counterproductive in terms of transformation for the minister to stop them from hosting potentially moneyspinning international events?

It’s the equivalent of asking for a ransom when the person clearly can’t pay it. Now it’s a standoff.

What will the consequences be?

Some sports will respond to what t h ey ’re measured against, which is numbers. They will, whether overtly or subconsciously, force quotas in, which I don’t think is long-term productive.

Isn’t that what they’ve been doing?

Yes, except no one is willing to say it. There’s this unwritten, plausible deniability with these sports, saying there are no quotas, but we all know there are.

Has this affected performance?

I think so. Not necessarily because of the quota but because of the way it’s delivered, and the lack of confidence it might create among young players.

It breaks the pathway. A lot of young, aspirant professionals leave because they’re not sure of the career prospects they have.


Yes. So that’s the downside on that side of the equation. Which must be offset against the benefits. Because on the other side there are more opportunities for black players. So quotas are not all bad.

What should the government do to encourage transformation?

It needs to support the federations that are under-resourced: financial, human and legislative support. And that’s about it.

Provide an enabling environment and let them get on with it?

Yes, but they’re not just there as a piggy bank, they’re there to provide expertise as well. There’s no reason why government can’t take an intellectual leadership role. Solving the problem instead of just pointing it out, which seems to be what’s happening.

Do they really want to solve it or is transformation in sport more useful to them as a political tool to use at election time?

Part of what reveals that is the lack of a clear definition of what success would look like. I haven’t yet heard that. That enables them to shift the targets any time it suits them.

What’s your idea of successful transformation?

Transformation for me is the opportunity to get more opportunities. That has to be quantified along the pathway from the beginning of high school all the way to potentially becoming a professional. Transformation is talent identification, except it’s weighted in this country in favour of black people. And that’s fine, it’s a good thing. But we don’t have talent identification, so how do we fix it? It’s nonexist ent.

Is this why transformation is going nowhere fast?

Yes. Fifteen years ago we might have celebrated Makhaya Ntini as a case study of our progress. Here we are in 2016 celebrating Kagiso Rabada as a case study. In other words we’re in the same place we were 15 years ago, pointing to one player as an example of how it should work.

So it’s not just about grassroots development, it’s about building systems on top of that?

Exactly. We don’t do talent ID in this country, we don’t do talent development. So how can we possibly do the complex form of that which is transformation?

Are there countries which do this stuff well, which we could copy?


Germany’s football development system is the best in the world. Tens of thousands of clubs, each with skilled, qualified, accredited coaches in the system. There is very little chance you would fall through the cracks. The same is true for Jamaica in sprinting and New Zealand rugby.

And it’s not just about money in those countries, is it?

There’s got to be a will and a way.

We ’re questioning whether there is a will. In other words transformation might be more beneficial as a problem. So you’ve got to question if there is a will.

If there’s not then we’re all wasting our time, aren’t we?


Do you find it odd in view of the minister’s latest stance that so recently he pushed for us to host the Commonwealth Games?


Has anything changed since then in terms of transformation?

No. But the elections got closer.