One of the most important principles underpinning the relationship between the government and the people it governs is that of trust. People should, to a reasonable degree, be able to trust what their government is telling them and be reasonably certain that whatever they are told or made to do is just, reasonable and logical.
When the president of the Republic put the whole country on alert level 5 lockdown on that Sunday evening of March 22 this year, we all understood. At that point the ban on all sporting activities seemed a very small price to pay for the greater good. We all understood that sport as an industry had to brace itself for a very big blow to its sustainability. The return of sport, especially at amateur level, was way down on the list compared with professional sport as the health protocols needed to engage in it were going to be too onerous to implement.
It was made clear by the sport ministry and different federations that amateur sport would only be feasible during alert level 1. By and large, people complied and waited patiently for level 1. When alert level 2 was declared and many professional sports and outdoor exercises were allowed, the amateur sports people had a reasonable expectation that the promise to return to the fields was imminent.
However, this is what president Ramaphosa nonchalantly said last Wednesday: “Existing restrictions on sporting events will remain,” then he moved on to something else. These words were like a huge stone on the heads of millions of sports people who had been sitting at home patiently waiting for the announcement of the official return to the fields for everyone. Amateur sport makes up more than 80% of people who take part in organised sport. To me this action by the government revealed how low on their priority list sport is.
Ramaphosa saw no need to even explain why such a drastic step was taken. He left hanging all the amateur organisations who had abruptly stopped their seasons mid-stream and others like rugby, netball and hockey were unable to even get started. I have been waiting patiently since last Wednesday for sport minister Nathi Mthethwa to make sense of these measures suffocating amateur sport, but up to now – nothing. In any case what could he say that could make any sense? How could he even begin to explain why they went back on their word? What logical explanation could he advance for the continued ban on amateur sport when they had said themselves that amateur sport must wait for level 1?
It is as if sport is seen as the stepchild and a nuisance by the ANC government. It is as if they do not see the value of sport in shaping the behaviour of millions who have nothing to keep them occupied. Sport is a multi-billion industry and a career for so many, but without its base – amateur sport – it will eventually collapse on itself. Who advises these people? If they are properly advised, do they listen?
Judging by this decision on sport it is clear that a lot is broken and sport is not very high on their priority list. How do you now stop people from playing when the government reneged on its own undertaking to return amateur sport on level 1? How do you return people to taverns and churches, but stop sportspeople from playing sport without onerous restrictions, outdoors? We are seeing an explosion of substance abuse and crime because the youth has nothing to occupy them. Does that ban make any sense to you? To me it does not.