The Independent Communications Authority South Africa (Icasa) recently published significant proposed amendments to the country’s sports broadcasting services regulations.
According to Kuhle Mavuso of law firm Webber Wentzel, the initial 2010 regulations have been lauded internationally for having adopted a sensible approach in balancing the needs of various stakeholders, including sports fans, sports federations, broadcasters and advertisers.
“The proposed amendments, however, tip the balance by significantly curtailing the ability of sports federations to licence their broadcasting rights on an exclusive basis,” Mavuso said.
“If the public submissions made in response to the amendments are to be believed, these amendments are likely to have dire impact on sports in South Africa”.
In response to the proposed amendments, Icasa received 33 written submissions from numerous interested stakeholders, including broadcasters, universities as well as local and international sports federations such as Cricket South Africa and the International Cricket Council.
“During the consultation process, a significant number of stakeholders cautioned that while the objectives of Icasa ‘to reach a wider audience and to strike a balance between audience and revenue’ are laudable, the proposed amendments will hamper the ability of sports federations to earn sufficient income to invest into the local sporting industries which is necessary to produce internationally competitive senior national squads,” said Mavuso.
Stakeholders submitted that if the sports federations are unable to attract sufficient revenue from the licensing of their broadcasting rights on reasonable and discretionary commercial terms, the following initiatives are likely to suffer:
- Various grassroots development programmes;
- Elite player and coach development and retention;
- The training of umpires;
- Programs designed to address past racial inequalities;
- Programs designed to invest in international competitiveness;
- Programs designed to increase the participation of women in male-dominated sporting codes such as cricket, soccer and rugby;
- Programs designed to safeguard the physical well-being and safety of persons and property at sports events;
- The maintenance of stadia and other facilities;
- Increasing levels of awareness and exposure to minority or less popular sports such as hockey and tennis; and
- The attractiveness of South Africa as a host destination for major sporting events.
“It was submitted by broadcasters such as the SABC that if the same content is available across all services, broadcasters – free to air and pay-tv – will find it increasingly difficult to grow an audience,” said Mavuso.
“The SABC also submitted that the proposed amendments should have been preceded by an economic impact assessment which measures how stakeholders would be impacted by the proposals.”
Mavuso said that local and international sports and broadcasting industries and sports fans alike now wait with bated breath for the outcome of the consultation process undertaken by Icasa – hoping that there may be a sensible resolve to the concerns raised and that broader access rights will not unravel the underpinning of the sports industry itself.