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Southern Africa Report Archive

Bruce Kidd, after long and noble years of anti-apartheid activism on the sports front, finally visits South Africa, registers eloquently what has already been accomplished, and finds that the struggle to realize egalitarian sporting practices must continue. JV

vol 8 no 5

No level playing field: Bruce Kidd in South Africa
Bruce Kidd

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Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 8, No 5, 1 May 1993
Page 31



Bruce Kidd, director of physical and health education at the University of Toronto, has just returned from a ten-day tour of South African sports programs. He and his wife Phyllis Berck spoke at the first South African Olympic Academy, a leadership development program conducted by NOCSA.

Despite the frustratingly slow pace of political negotiations, the deepening recession and the continuing, wanton violence, there is a mood of cautious optimism in the non-racial sports movement these days.

In large part, the buoyant mood is a reflection of the organizational achievements of the last year. While the prospects for political settlement remain elusive, in almost every sport a democratic constitution has been achieved, representatives of the former white establishment and the non-racial movement are working together and development agreements in the townships and rural areas are being implemented.

In the Olympic Committee (NOCSA), the "interim executive" created by negotiations and sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee in 1991 was replaced in November of 1992 by an executive elected by the new unified federations. The "interim executive" had not been a harmonious mix. While it gave veteran anti-apartheid leader Sam Ramsamy and his comrades the chance to direct South Africa's first non-racial participation in the Olympic Games and to trash the hated symbols of the springbok and the apartheid state's anthem and flag, it also reproduced the divisions and tensions of the ancien regime: it included leaders of two establishment federations, including the all-white, pro-apartheid Olympic Committee (SANOC) expelled by the IOC in 1970.

In the November elections, the old guard of establishment sport was not supported, while Ramsamy, Mluleki George of the National Sport Congress and key allies were returned with several liberal whites. Most of the bitter pre-Barcelona wrangling and jockeying for power has ended. The new executive, which will serve until after the Atlanta Games, seems united behind the non-racial banner. Critics had speculated that the non-racial leaders would be outmanoeuvred by the whites, but they seem well in control. "The experience of administering our own sports within the non-racial organizations has stood us in good stead," explained Stan Brickwa, the Cape Town president of the unified baseball federation. "We may not be as knowledgeable on the technical side, but politically and organizationally, we know as much as anyone."

We were particularly struck by the spirit of reconciliation displayed by the non-racial leaders toward their new colleagues. Their own sports careers had been crippled by apartheid and many of them were jailed for their activism. "We are prepared to let bygones be bygones in order to make some real change," Richard Chauke, the national organizer of the unified table tennis federation, explained. In fact, the spirit of cooperation was so prevalent during the weekend meeting we attended that one leader from the establishment side told me that on the basis of NOCSA's experience, the idea of an "interim government" for the country as a whole should be scrapped in favour of general elections on a one-person one-vote franchise.

Nevertheless, the task of bringing sports to the long oppressed black population will occupy these bright and energetic people for decades to come. In the townships and rural areas, there is only a rudimentary infrastructure - instruction, facilities, equipment, and competition - available for sports. Development is further complicated by the deplorable state of housing, public health, education and employment, and the continuing legacy of apartheid. Given the "sport for all" ambitions of the non-racial movement, for example, it would seem logical to channel sports development through the public schools. Yet with the collapse of black education in many areas, most schools are incapable of responding to the challenge. Even if they were, the fact that the responsibility for education is still divided between 17 racially-defined departments adds to the difficulties. (Organizing non-racial interscholastic competition under these circumstances is very difficult to imagine.) Another candidate for broadly-based sports development is the municipal recreation department. Where it exists at all in the townships, it is woefully underfunded. For these reasons, most of the development programs started in the last few years are delivered by the sports federations and community clubs. Even if they live up to their contractual obligations - NOCSA has just begun to monitor them - they will only touch a small percentage of the interested population.

I have long been familiar with the statistics of apartheid inequality, but I was not prepared for the staggering disparities we witnessed on the ground. Soweto is South Africa's largest city, with 2.8 million school age children, not including squatters. Apart from the well-maintained Orlando Stadium (where special coaching in soccer is available for the best 30 or so boys in every age group), the few available playing fields are rocky and uneven, with as much dirt as grass. Mules graze where the much-publicized cricket development program is conducted. Their presence is tolerated because they keep the grass short. At Soweto's only 400-metre track, the grass grows wild on the infield, with the result that no one can use it.

I knew, of course, that there were magnificent facilities in the white areas, but I was not quite prepared to see just how lavish they were. In Johannesburg and Cape Town, it seemed that every white high school has an endless stretch of beautifully manicured playing fields and specialized facilities (they all reminded me of Upper Canada College). Public parks and recreation facilities in white municipalities were equally good. The private Wanderers' Club in Johannesburg, stretching over an area about the size of the University of Toronto, boasts a 50-metre swimming pool, 18 playing fields, an 18-hole golf course and a 80,000-seat cricket stadium.

Some white clubs recruit outstanding black athletes and engage in competitions with black clubs, but membership fees and the time and cost of transportation remain imposing barriers. In addition, some black parents are reluctant to let their children go into white neighbourhoods for fear they will disappear. (The same is true for white parents and black neighbourhoods, making defaults commonplace in the few attempts at non-racial leagues.) For the most part, the idea of shared use on a large scale is still a distant dream. Some within the non-racial leadership, such as Cheryl Roberts of Cape Town, express disappointment that an affirmative action plan to share facilities was not achieved as part of the unity process.

Not surprisingly, the politics of development pervade all discussion, whether it's about where to schedule competitions, who should be selected for representative teams, or whether NOCSA should follow IOC directives to institute a drug-testing program. In each case, there is a move to negotiate a trade-off to satisfy the blacks' desire for democracy and development and the whites' for international competition, which provided the basis for non-racial unity.

For example, it costs about 300 rands to test an athlete for the drugs on the IOC's ever-growing banned list, money which is desperately needed for development. But among anti-apartheid sports activists there is a feeling that South Africa should be seen internationally as capable of screening visiting athletes, such as the large numbers of European athletes who take advantage of South Africa's southern-hemisphere climate for training. The price, however, is that South Africa therefore meets a very expensive first world requirement in a local setting of mainly third world athletes. Yet the activists don't want to be misunderstood - they want to line up with what seems to be progressive thinking in the developed countries. In the wake of the scandal around Katarina Krabbe, the German sprinter whose random test at a South African training session was interpreted to reveal the abnormalities usually associated with steroids, those concerned with maintaining international support (including a majority of the NOCSA executive) want the assurance that they are not unwittingly providing a haven for users. Therefore they reluctantly conduct expensive tests that others outside the country would question. Nevertheless, when we were there in January, a compromise was being sought to initiate domestic testing but keep the costs to a minimum.

As this example illustrates, the debates between high performance and development no longer divide strictly along the old apartheid non-racial lines. Many from the non-racial side now seek the benefits and legitimacy of international competition. This is particularly the case for the ANC, which seeks to manage the international schedule for the major sports of soccer, cricket and rugby to enhance its image among whites and moderate blacks. In January, for example, ANC endorsement ensured that the 1994 World Cup of rugby will be held in South Africa. While some supporters privately grumbled that they were not consulted about the timing, and there was no quid pro quo for development, the decision garnered the ANC much favourable publicity. Throughout the country, front pages and newscasts gave Oliver Tambo and ANC sports officer Steve Tshwete the credit for bringing the month-long tournament to South Africa. It was only two days later that the Government managed to salvage some attention by announcing that it was behind the World Cup, too.

The high performance - vs. - development debate will only intensify as South Africa begins the serious bidding for the 2004 Olympics. Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg all seek the Games. NOCSA will choose the South African representative in 1994 (and the IOC the site in 1997). The idea is to spur investment in sports facilities, provide capital for new housing (the Olympic Villages) and improve local transportation. There is also a widespread feeling that an Olympics would help keep all of Africa on the international agenda, and counteract the shift in aid and investment to eastern Europe. But as anyone familiar with what has happened in recent host cities (or the debates on the Toronto bid for '96) will attest, creating a plan that will really put additional resources into disadvantaged areas will be enormously difficult.

The fact that so much hinges upon the volunteer sector illustrates the dilemma of getting too far ahead of the political negotiations. The organizational achievements of the last year indicate that a healthy, autonomous sports movement will play an important role in the decisions ahead. Yet any significant redistribution and development of sports resources will also require the intervention of a democratic state. Recognizing this, ANC sports policy calls for the creation of a National Sports Commission, with a broad development mandate. But that's very much in the future. In the meantime, the Nats continue to channel large amounts of money to events that feature whites, while virtually ignoring NOCSA and the NSC. The important promise of development is carried virtually alone by the non-racial leadership, many of whom are volunteers, and their fledgling new federations. Their members and the vociferous sports media primarily judge them on their ability to regulate competition, find sponsors and field successful representative teams, the traditional roles of such organizations. In this climate, proposals to improve opportunities for the victims of apartheid must be linked to - and risk being overshadowed by - a high-performance agenda that will invariably privilege the well-established white clubs and communities.

I suspect that the absence of democratic state programs also contributes to the widespread sexism so prevalent in South African sports. We met a number of able and experienced female administrators and coaches - at the junior level, for instance, there are more women coaching cricket than men - but very few of them hold senior positions of leadership. There's not a single woman on the NOCSA executive. At the meeting we attended, women presented example after example of discrimination and outrageous paternalism, but there seemed little interest in righting the balance. The "chill" against gender equity reminded me of Canadian sports in the 1960s. Sportswomen are beginning to organize, but it will be a long haul. They fear that while they may help create a non-racial society, it will not be a non-sexist one.

The above changes present fresh challenges to the international solidarity movements. Anti-apartheid veterans repeatedly asked us to thank Canadians for their support - "the sanctions really worked"!!! - but then took pains to point out that they have left the moratorium behind. In many ways, all the familiar prohibitions are now reversed. It felt very strange, but we were encouraged to patronize South African Airlines and (after the final sanctions are removed) purchase South African wines and other long banned products in an effort to rebuild the economy for a democratic transition.

Activists' greatest concern is that the western capitalist countries - many of which benefited from the super-profits of apartheid - not forget South Africa just as blacks are about to come into power. They hope that more governments will invest in grassroots sports and physical education in conjunction with other forms of assistance, and they point out that the rest of southern Africa is in even greater need of such help. They urge us to ensure that, when South African teams play abroad, they are seen as representatives of non-racial sports and the aspirations for a new, democratic society - not de Klerk's bankrupt state.

These, too, are important tasks.

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