Mzonke Fana fight cancellation and loss of Fana title: Public hearings

Sports, Arts and Culture

25 July 2011
Chairperson: Acting: Mr M Dikgacwi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Mr Mzonke Fana, a boxer, had written to the Committee appealing for its assistance in uncovering a number of questions relating to the cancellation of a fight scheduled for 11 June 2011, and the fact that, having failed to fight, he was stripped of his title. The Committee therefore called for a public hearing, and invited Mr Fana’s present and past managers, representatives of Boxing SA, and the boxing promoter, to explain their roles and involvement to the Committee. It was apparent from what they said that there had been a number of breakdowns in communication between the parties. The promoter claimed that Mr Fana had demanded an unreasonable sum of money for the fight, which was not able to be paid since there was no TV coverage or sponsorship, and that where it was not possible to reach agreement, the matter was put for a purse bid. It also emerged that the promoter had been informed that Mr Fana was not licensed, with the result that it was not possible to issue a contract for the fight. Boxing SA claimed that he had been licensed until 31 March 2011. Members questioned who was responsible for ensuring that he was licensed but was told that this responsibility may rest with the individual boxer. BK Investment Holdings, the former manager, denied allegations that it had failed to pay boxers, and Boxing SA denied allegations that it owed money in taxes to South Africa Revenue Services. 

Members were not entirely satisfied with the answers, and thought that a number of other issues still remained to be addressed. They raised concerns as to whether this complaint was officially laid with Boxing SA, the date of the last fight prior to 11 June and whether Mr Fana had received all dues until that date, why the date was advertised if no contract existed, and details of the communications between Boxing SA and the International Boxing Federation. Members commented that this did not bode well for the future image of boxing in South Africa. Members also wanted to know why some purse bids were much higher than others, questioned the responsibilities of Boxing SA in respect of information given to boxers on licensing and contracts, and whether there was a formal policy and how international bodies would arrange events. Members asked that the managers and promoter should prepare a response on the licensing issues, that the Department of Sport and Recreation should comment and that the outstanding issues, including questions of licences and taxes would be addressed again at another meeting. The view was also expressed that the Boxing Act seemed to be failing in its purpose to provide protection to boxers.

Meeting report

Mzonke Fana: Cancellation of title fight: Public hearings
The Chairperson stated that meeting had been called to investigate the allegations made in a letter submitted by Mr Mzonke Fana, to do with the cancellation of a fight and loss of his title. There had been much negative media publicity around this, and it did not bode well for the future of boxing in South Africa. Boxing South Africa (BSA) was funded by Parliament and this body was set up in terms of legislation, which must be followed. The Chairperson stated that BSA had not reported precisely what had happened, and it was up to the Committee to determine the correct situation. At the end of the hearings the Committee would propose a way forward so that these issues would not rise again.

The Chairperson read out a letter submitted to the Committee by Mr Mzonke Fana. In the letter Mr Fana expressed frustration about the management of his boxing career and the cancellation of his last fight with Argenis Mendez for the International Boxing Federation (IBF) Junior Lightweight Championship that was to be held on 11 June 2011. He pleaded that the Committee assist him in establishing the whereabouts of his contract fro the supposed staged fight, who had agreed on the purse, on his behalf, and what factors were taken into account for this, as he did not have adequate knowledge of this. He also asked for details as to what exactly had been the problems with the venue, why the fight had actually been postponed, and whether this was correct, and why he had been stripped of his title was stripped without him even having been in the ring. He also asked why he was stripped of this title through the media and why he had been withdrawn from the 11 June 2011 fight.

Mr Fana had acknowledged that he had followed an unusual stance in submitting a confidential letter to the Committee, but felt that no other options were open to him. He urged the members to hear his plea, and address these concerns, not only for himself, but for the future of all black boxers who depended on the sport for their livelihoods.

The Chairperson had realised that such allegations would have overarching and potential detrimental impacts on the future of boxing in South Africa. It had therefore been necessary to address the issues immediately. Many people may not see eye to eye on the matters discussed, but it was important to air all views.

The Chairperson then noted that Mr Fana was present, and invited Members to put their questions to him.

Discussion
 Mr T Lee (DA) was of the view that Mr Mzonke Fana should have approached Boxing South Africa (BSA) to raise his complaint, as BSA, in terms of its founding legislation, would have been able to assist him. He asked whether this step had been followed, and in the event that he had met with BSA, whether he was happy with the outcome of that meeting.

Mr L Suka (ANC) wanted Mr Fana to explicitly state that he had indeed written the letter read out, and was aware of its contents, and confirmed the accuracy of what had been read out.

Mr Mzonke Fana responded by that the letter read out was indeed his own submission.

Mr Suka wanted to know the date of the Mr Fana’s last fight and whether he had received all his dues. If he did receive all his funds, he then requested the total value.

Mr Suka also wanted to know whether Mr Fana had a contract for the fight on 11 June 2011, and with whom that contract was sighed. It was important for the Committee to know the identity of Mr Fana’s managers and promoter, and details of that contract.

Mr Fana responded that he had never received the contract and had never signed any document.

The Chairperson raised the concern that the fight was advertised in the newspapers, and questioned how this could be done, if there was in fact no signed contract. Section 7 of the South African Boxing Act outlined requirements in regard to licensing, contracts, and payments. It specifically stated that the contract must be signed 30 days prior to the date of the tournament. He therefore questioned how it was possible for this fight to have been announced if Mr Fana had never signed a contract.

 Mr Mava Malla, Manager, sought clarity on Mr Suka’s question as to the date of Mr Fana’s last fight.

Mr Suka clarified that he was referring to the last fight that Mr Fana participated in prior to the one scheduled for 11 June 2011.

Mr Malla stated that he only became Mr Fana’s manager in May 2011. Prior to that, Mr Butityi Konki was managing Mr Fana’s career, so he could not comment on anything that occurred prior to May 2011.

Mr Suka asked Mr Malla to present what all he knew, and how he had assisted Mr Fana in developing his career.

Mr Malla stated that when he became Mr Fana’s manager, various news reports were circulating to the effect that Mr Fana was about to lose his title. In order to clarify this, Mr Malla arranged a meeting with the promoter of the fight, Mr Branco Melenkovic, who had confirmed that Mr Fana was to be stripped of the title, and that there was nothing that Mr Melenkovic could do. Mr Malla claimed that he went to the Chairperson of BSA, and had asked what BSA knew of the case. He had done so because he wanted BSA to prevent the loss of the title. The Chairperson of BSA stated that a letter had been written to the International Boxing Federation (IBF). However, a few days later, news emerged that Mr Fana had already been stripped of his title. However, this information was not given to Mr Fana until 21 May 2011. Mr Malla then had requested the Chairperson of BSA to show him the letter allegedly submitted to the IBF.

The Chairperson asked Mr Konki to give a supplementary explanation as to what he knew.

Mr Butityi Konki, formerly Manager to Mr Fana, and CEO; BK Investment Holdings, said that Mr Fana had alleged, amongst other things, that that BK Investment Holdings was responsible for Mr Fana being stripped of his world title, and that this company had withheld the purse monies from its boxers for a period of two years. However, Mr Konki described those allegations as “malicious”. The contract between Mr Fana and BK Investment Holdings was to expire on 31 May 2011. However, in anticipation of the fight, BK Investment Holdings had extended the contract until August 2011.

Mr Konki claimed that the reason Mr Fana had lost his title was because he wanted R800 000 for the fight, despite the fact that the promoter, Mr Melenkovic, offered to pay only R370 000. Mr Konki asked Mr Fana to reduce his bid, but Mr Melenkovic had not agreed, and in the failure to reach agreements on the purse, the promoter was responsible for contacting the IBF for a purse bid. Mr Konki stressed that BK Investment Holdings was not responsible. The claims made against this company by board members of the BSA were false and unfounded. All boxers had received all the funds that were owed to them, and BK Investment Holdings did not withhold any funds.

Mr Lee wanted to know what role BSA played in this, and reiterated that this was not a good reflection of boxing in South Africa for the future.

The Chairperson agreed with this point. He said that BSA should provide clarity on this.

Mr Suka said that Mr Melenkovic may not have been at the root of the problem, and there may have been more individuals responsible for Mr Fana losing his title. However, Mr Suka wanted Mr Melenkovic also to give an explanation into the matter.

Mr Branco Melenkovic, Boxing Promoter, said that he had been promoting Mr Fana’s fights for eleven years. Six championship fights had been included in this period. He claimed that the monetary demands made by Mr Fana were unreasonable. He further stated that the contract for the fight was never sent to Mr Fana, because at the time Mr Fana was not a licensed boxer.

Mr Lee wanted more clarity on what was meant by the term “purse bid”.

The Chairperson questioned why Mr Fana was not licensed, and asked who was responsible for renewing the fighter’s license.

Mr Melenkovic clarified that boxers had to renew their licence every year. As far as he understood the position, each boxer was individually responsible for renewing his own licence.

Mr Lee asked whether it was not the responsibility of the manager to ensure that Mr Fana’s licence was renewed.

The Chairperson suggested that Mr Melenkovic should first be allowed to complete his answer before any of the other matters raised were addressed.

Mr Melenkovic continued, in regard to the financial requests, that there were many costs associated with organising a fight. He considered the financial consideration offered to Mr Fana to have been quite fair. He had contacted Mr Fana and had warned him of the consequences of failing to reach agreement, but Mr Fana’s managers then informed Mr Melenkovic that Mr Fana did not have a license. Mr Melenkovic stated that there was a breakdown in communication between him and Mr Fana’s managers, and that may have been another reason for Mr Fana being stripped of his title.

The Chairperson wanted to know how the purse for a fight was determined.

Mr Melenkovic answered that the purse was dependent on sponsorship and TV rights. In the case of the fight scheduled for 11 June, there was neither a sponsor nor any TV rights.

Mr Suka asked again that BSA should clarify the situation, in particular what BSA had done to help Mr Fana. He also wanted to know why some boxers were paid larger sums in purses, and why Mr Fana was not afforded the opportunity to receive the same high amount.

Dr Peter Ngatane, Chairperson, Boxing South Africa, stated that the purse bid was cancelled several times between April and June, by the IBF. When he had e-mailed the details to Mr Melenkovic, the latter had responded that there was no deal with SABC, and the fight could not go on.

Mr Konki then explained that when the promoters and the boxers did not reach an agreement on the purse, then a bid was opened up to international bidders to host the fight.

The Chairperson asked that BSA continue with its explanation.

Dr Ngatane continued that the licence of each boxer was valid from April 1 of one year  to March 31 of the following year. For any activity up until 31 March 2011, Mr Fana was therefore indeed licensed. The claims that he was not licensed prior to 31 March were false and unfounded.

Dr Ngatane further stated that it was the responsibility of the manager to inform the fighter on issues relating to the licence and contracts. BSA was responsible for managing the licensing of its boxers, but it could not intervene in the event itself, as that fell under the jurisdiction of the IBF.

The Chairperson claimed that the statement made by BSA did not appear to be in line with how matters had transpired. He asked for further explanation the matter.

Mr Lee argued that, according to the law, there was a formalised boxing policy. Members now seemed to have received mixed responses from BSA, which seemed to suggest that there was not a  formalised international policy. He asked who was responsible for formalising an international policy.

Mr Malla wanted BSA to explain how the situations could be fixed, and how the damage that was done could be repaired. He believed that there was an obligation on BSA to highlight any gaps in the legislation, so that they could be fixed.

Dr Ngatane asserted that when the news of Mr Fana being stripped of the title reached BSA, it had contacted the IBF and demanded an explanation. BSA was told that Mr Fana was granted several opportunities to present his defence, but had failed to do so. Dr Ngatane received a letter from the IBF that explained the situation, but the contents of the letter could not be discussed at the present time, in this meeting.

Mr Malla claimed that the S A Boxing Act existed to prevent undesirable situations arising, and to promote and respect the rights of boxing athletes. The rights of Mr Fana should have been protected and international law should be recognised, insofar as it was in line with South Africa’s own national laws. If the fight was to take place on 11 June 2011, then the promoters should have contacted BSA and ensured that the rights of the boxer were respected.

Dr Ngatane stated that no international body would hold an event in South Africa without the approval of BSA.

The Chairperson and Mr Suka wanted to know whether BSA received a letter from IBF that Mr Fana was being stripped of his title. If so, then they asked what BSA had done about this matter.

Mr Lee expressed his frustration that he had been in support of the legislation, believing that it would protect the athletes. It was most unfortunate that it appeared to have failed to do so.

The Chairperson then invited Professor Paul Singh, Chief Director: Sport Supports Services, to make himself available to respond to the allegations made in the meeting. He also asked that Mr Melenkovic and Mr Malla should prepare a report on the licensing issues. He also asked for clarity on aspects relating to tax collection from the boxers.

Dr Ngatane stated that, as far as he knew, BSA was not legally responsible for deducting taxes from the athletes. There were media reports that stated that many boxers owed large sums to South African Revenue Services (SARS). After 2005, tax was deducted from the purses, but there were certain instances where SARS claimed that tax was still owed. BSA denied any allegations that it owed money to SARS.

The Chairperson, supported by all Members, announced that another meeting would be held when the promoters and managers should provide further details in regard to the issues raised, including  around licences and tax.

The meeting was adjourned.

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