Imagine a South African Sports Minister looking the part in national colours. How about doing something sporty, like cycling and finishing the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour, one of our country’s iconic public sporting events?
Unheard of? Yes, up until the arrival of Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula. There is no denying that the face of South African sport has changed, and it is thanks to a momentum largely due to him.
Regularly seen in Team South Africa colours, Mbalula walks the talk. He takes a noticeable interest in the doings of his Ministry. He has re-energised the sporting landscape and encouraged sporting bodies, athletes and sponsors to take charge of their destiny.
When you speak to South Africa’s sports men and women – the very individuals his Ministry is supposed to nurture and support, you’ll hear stories of hope and excitement.
While most people seem distracted by the “Razzmatazz”, a closer inspection finds Mbalula working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure SA sport is given the red carpet treatment it deserves.
His influence meant that South Africa’s London 2012-bound swimmers got an opportunity to spend time in Monaco with Princess Charlene, formerly Charlene Wittstock, who represented South Africa at the Olympic Games in Sydney 12 years ago.
Wittstock hosted them like royalty in Monaco, taking care of their every requirement including accommodation and training facilities. With good reason, swimmers took to twitter to rave about the A-list treatment they received.
While Mbalula may have an obvious interest in what is happening on the top, he has aptly demonstrated his concern for what is going on at all levels.
The former ANC Youth League leader has defied expectations, instituting a nation-wide audit of sport in our country, a process that will shortly culminate in the expression of national policy to address pressing needs and the sustainability of sport in SA.
Mbalula has made this country’s most pressing sporting crisis – schools sport – his top priority. If his early successes are anything to go by, expect noticeable results coming through from this level.
But it is his interest in raising the profile of women’s sport that has caught my eye, and I for one am grateful for this follow-through from our country’s sporting executive.
Throughout the years men and women around South Africa have ploughed their energy into promoting women’s sport. They are the lifeblood of the women’s game, and their sacrifice has meant that our female athletes’ efforts are not in vain. But something was needed to take women’s sport to another level, a big boost… and Minister Mbalula has come to the party.
He has demonstrated that women’s sport is a priority by appointing a high-profile team, including the formidable Onke Mjo – a key figure in the 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign – to run this portfolio.
He has thrown his weight behind netball and announced his intentions to turn South Africa’s fastest-growing sport professional.
He recently launched an annual four-nation tournament, with hosts South Africa welcoming highly-rated Malawi, Mozambique, and Botswana as inaugural tournament participants. The Diamond League edition one takes place in Pretoria from 15-18 August. Netball will never be the same again.
He has shown that he is there in good times, and in bad. He stood by Banyana Banyana at the airport on their arrival back from the Olympics, saying: “They met the best and were defeated, but they will grow with time. We are proud of them.”
Thank you, Mr. Minister for throwing your weight behind women’s sport. Your passionate support of our female athletes gives us the energy to continue the work of raising the profile of women’s sport.