A new draft amendment bill by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture is looking to bring all sports codes, clubs and fitness organisations under the direct regulatory control of the minister – which could mean bad news for South Africa’s participation in international events.
The bill, released by the department earlier in December, has been published for written inputs from the bodies affected.
According to the department, it seeks to amend the National Sport and Recreation Act to broadly “provide for the promotion and development of sport and recreation”.
This includes establishing a Sport Arbitration Tribunal to resolve disputes between sport or recreation bodies; regulate combat sport; regulate the fitness industry; provide for the procedure in bidding for and hosting of international sports and recreation events; provide for the delegation of powers; provide for offences and penalties; and to provide for matters connected with these.
Among the many proposed changes in the bill is the removal of the independence of sports bodies, which would now have to develop ways to promote their sports in consultation with the minister, as well as giving the minister power to step-in directly in any disputes within sports.
The department also wants to assume full control of all sports codes, with its oversight extending to “any national federation, agency, club or body, including a trust, professional league, or registered company of such a national federation, agency, club or body, involved in the administration of sport or recreation at local, provincial or national level.”
This would ostensibly include fitness groups like Virgin Active and Planet Fitness, which would have to register and be certified by the department.
The department would also be empowered to hand out penalties to organisations or aforementioned clubs if they do not comply with the prescriptions in the Act, including fines and up to two years in jail.
The draft amendments can be read below:
Nationalisation of sports
According to experts and sports bodies speaking to Rapport, the move is nothing short of the nationalisation of sport in South Africa and could lead to the country being booted out of international competitions like the Olympics.
The draft amendment bill gives the minister a direct hand in practically everything to do with sports and fitness in the country, which could extend to selecting sports teams, or any other directive that falls in line with the department’s goal of ensuring “transformation in sport”.
The department will also have the final say on who qualifies for national colours in all sporting codes, and who gets to host or participate in any international competition.
A key amendment of the Act states very broadly: “The Minister may from time to time determine and publish policy objectives to be achieved by Sports and Recreation South Africa, the Sports Confederation and sports or recreation bodies.”
In its current form, the draft amendments will cause a lot of international backlash, Rapport said, particularly as organisations such as the Olympic Committee forbid government interference.
Speaking to the paper, secretary-general of the department Sumayya Khan said that the minister’s intention is not to meddle with South Africa’s sports codes.
“(The minister) is just seeking to establish a mechanism through which the department can maintain oversight, without getting mixed up in the day-to-day running of sports bodies.”
Khan noted that there are too many sports federations that are involved in court battles in the country, and the new regulations will help the department deal with many of these conflicts internally.
However, despite the department’s stance of “not getting involved”, sports bodies are not convinced, given the government’s stated goal to push transformation in sport.
The South African Sports Federation’s Kobus Marais said that the draft laws take away all power from sports bodies while adding more responsibilities and pressure.
Expert in sports regulations from the University of Pretoria, Steve Cornelius said there is no doubt that the draft amendments are seeking to put the minister in full control of sport in South Africa.
The memo on the proposed changes can be read below: