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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Thokozile Xasa will tackle the difficult and enormous problem of school sport in South Africa

Mosibodi Whitehead

One of the most serious criticisms of Fikile Mbalula’s term as minister of Sport and Recreation was his lack of focus on fixing school sport. Razzmatazz did well to shine the spotlight on elite sport, particularly by raising the profile of the SA Sports Awards.

However, his apparent lack of desire to tackle grassroots issues in favour of the glitz and glamour left some of us with a school sport system that is in need of a complete overhaul.

The recent Fifth Annual Eminent Persons Group Report that monitors the progress of transformation in South African sport revealed that less than 10% of the 25 000 schools in the country participate in organised sports programme.

This is a problem that needs urgent attention.

The new minister of sport and recreation, Thokozile Xasa, is said to have made all the right noises especially when it comes to tackling the difficult and enormous problem that is school sport in South Africa.

Last week Xasa tabled her 2018/2019 budget vote in parliament much of which focussed on school sport.

The National Treasury allocated just over R1 billion to the Department of Sport and Xasa received praise for announcing that around R400 million of that would go to school sport.

The Ministry of Sport has divided its budget into four parts: promoting national participation in sport and recreation; supporting the delivery of sport infrastructure; fostering transformation in sport and recreation; and nurturing talent and supporting excellence.

School sport is housed under the promotion of national participation in sport and recreation which is known as the Active Nation programme.

In the 2018/2019 financial year the Active Nation programme has been allocated almost R700 million approximately R400 of which is dedicated to school sport.

The strategy is simple. Through the Active Nation Programme the department aims to increase participation in and access to organised school sport for thousands of South African learners.

This is a two-pronged strategy. First, money has been set aside to support the national school sport championships by ensuring that 5 000 learners attend these championships in 2018/19. Second, funds have been ring-fenced to provide equipment and attire to 2 500 schools hubs and clubs around the country.

If implemented according to plan, this increase the number of children that have access to school sport and also improve the quality of school sport by catering to some of the resource limitations that had hitherto crippled our efforts to deliver quality school sport to South African learners.

There is one potential stumbling block to the successful implementation of this plan.

In order to work the plan requires the both the Department of Sport and Recreation (SRSA) and the Department of Basic Education to work together.

Already a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) exists between SRSA and DBE going back to 2011. However, as Xasa noted, the MoU must be reviewed as “it has only been partially implemented and the main role players – SRSA, DBE, provincial departments, national and provincial federations – operate in uncoordinated and non-aligned silos.”

Xasa said a new MoU between the SRSA and DBE has been drafted and is close to being signed.

“We hope to sign our memorandum of understanding by end of the month because we believe it is the bedrock of transformation and the sustainability of our efforts. It is important for the early identification of talent that will be nurtured up to the high-performance level.”

“We want to build a pipeline and this MoU will assist us,” said Xasa when she addressed Parliament in Cape Town last week.

If this MoU results in the SRSA and DBE singing in concert, then my only criticism is that the budget doesn’t go far enough in trying to fix school sport.

Providing equipment for only 10% of the schools in the country and supporting those talented few that qualify for the national championships still potentially leaves millions of South African children without access to good organised sport in our schools.

What is encouraging though is the thought that seems to have gone into this budget. Xasa and her Director-General Alec Moemi seem to have given considerable thought to solve the school sport problem with one of the smallest budgets all the South African government departments.

The scaling down of the costly SA Sports Awards coupled with reluctance to spend on sport infrastructure in favour of partnering with municipalities through the provision of expertise to manage existing facilities speaks to a shift in the current SRSA’s attitude towards money.

It is now about prudence and the adoption of a long-term view that necessarily focuses on the future by placing emphasis on school sport.

The SRSA 2018/2019 budget is bold step in the right direction because it reflects an earnestness to tackle the seriously dysfunctional school sport system that still resembles a South Africa built on the principles of racial exclusion.

And if successfully implemented it will provide a blueprint on which future budgets can be based and scaled up so that we can finally level the playing fields.

Mosibodi Whitehead is a broadcaster and a sports writer.


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