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Newly appointed Minister of Sport and Recreation Thulas Nxesi alongside SARU President Mark Alexander. SA Rugby met 50% of their transformation targets earning government's support to host the 2023 IRB Rugby World Cup. Photo: Supplied.

The latest Eminent Persons Group’s report on sport transformation calls for the re-introduction of physical education as a compulsory subject at schools

 Mosibodi Whitehead

Since the dawn of the democratic South Africa in 1994, little has managed to grab headlines in the way the term “transformation” has. In the South African context this is a misunderstood word that has taken on a more political meaning. Whether it is political grandstanding, commercial convenience or bold-faced rage, transformation in sport is a deeply emotive topic in South Africa. Yet with all the shouting and fury South African sport has not changed much since 1994, both in appearance and structure. That’s why many were shocked by the latest Eminent Persons Group (EPG)’s bold assertion that the success of South African sport, across several codes at both the junior and senior level, is doomed to fail on the international stage if more children from different walks of life are not brought into sport.

Eminent Persons Group

Once the post-Rainbow Nation euphoria had died down, sober minds looked back on the pre-1994 Unity Talks. They realised that they had failed to produce the kind of radical change in both the administration and participants that had been hoped for in certain sporting codes. Rugby, cricket, swimming, tennis and many other sports remained largely white, while football, boxing and to a lesser extent athletics remained black. The public maligned the government as toothless in its efforts to open the doors of opportunity to all South Africans. Others suggested that any such efforts amounted to reverse racism. It required a shift in the approach to transforming sport in the country and this came when the department of sports, recreation and culture (SRAC) hosted a Sports Indaba in 2011 and adopted the Transformation Charter for South African Sport. The Charter was followed by a White Paper and the EPG was set up to monitor and evaluate it. The EPG is a group of knowledgeable South Africans who essentially produce an annual audit of the rate of transformation of different sporting codes in the country.

Dysfunctional school sport system

The 2015/2016 EPG Report, which was tabled a few weeks ago, has finally produced a self-reflective report with the honesty that this country so desperately needs. The fourth annual report covering 19 sporting codes points to the largely dysfunctional “school sport system as the ‘Achilles heel’ of the whole sport system, including the high performance codes”. The numbers are simple. The majority of the 22 million U18 youth in South Africa (84% of which are black) attend township and rural schools where the school sports system has almost completely collapsed. For example, 93% of the over 25 000 schools in South Africa are public. Yet roughly a third of all the players that have represented the South African Senior National Cricket Team since 1994 come from just six private schools.

Reliance on ex-Model C schools

It’s a ticking time bomb. The EPG’s report says it better: “The strategy of some sports codes of relying on a handful of ex Model-C and private schools as their pipeline for identifying talent is not sustainable.” Because physical education as a stand-alone compulsory subject was removed from the school curriculum in 1999, school sport has now become a “nice-to-have”. Only some sport is required as part of Life Orientation, whereas several other life skills such as career guidance, study skills and others must be taught. It means that the child attending a school in Bochum, Limpopo has little chance of ever picking up a rugby ball, unless he can end up at Capricorn High School in Polokwane, a former Model-C school.

Re-instating physical education

School sport must become compulsory again, a view which SRAC director-general, Alec Moemi shares. “Physical Education is currently part of Life Orientation. If you really think about it, a teacher must make a choice between teaching sex education, personal hygiene and sport. You realise the challenge we have in the system of trying to encourage greater participation by learners, teachers and all stakeholders to make the system work. From where we are sitting there must be an amendment to the Schools Act to make physical education compulsory once again, so that every teacher who goes to training college knows that they will have to teach sport,” said Moemi.

Consultations with the ministry of education

But passing a law in Parliament takes long at the best of times, so until then the new minister of sport Thulas Nxesi — himself a former teacher trade unionist — has committed himself to working with the department of basic education (DoBE) to renegotiate their memorandum of understanding in order to focus on transforming (in the non-political sense of the word) school sport. “Part of the consultation that I am going to have with the ministry of education is to deal with those issues. School sport is under the department of basic education. It also involves the unions and you can’t impose it on the unions. You have to discuss and come to terms with the unions,” said Nxesi.

Until sport is compulsory and well-resourced (both human resources and equipment, including facilities) in rural and township schools, we are reliant upon the goodwill of individual teachers and the determination of the few highly gifted learners to succeed against the odds in sporting codes that they acquire in their teens. In simple terms, if we want the Springboks to look like the rest of South Africa, then junior rugby must be played in the 93% of schools where there is presently almost no sport at all.



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