Athletics South Africa (ASA) briefed the Committee on their development programme, medal prospects for the 2016 Olympics and the various issues they were experiencing. The presentation chiefly revolved around the challenges of the ASA, particularly highlighting the internal strife on the Board and financial deficits that have exacerbated the overall proficiency of the organisation. There were also some disagreements between Mr James Evans and Mr Peter Lourens, specifically concerning Mr James Evans’ involvement on the Board and knowledge of the National Lottery revenue ASA received. The ASA entertained questions regarding funding, sponsors and the overall experience and expertise of Board members while the Committee, on the other hand, conveyed their disappointment with ASA’s dire financial situation and the Board’s overall ineffectiveness and wished to meet with the entirety of the Board in order to resolve some of the issues they confronted.
Briefing by Athletics South Africa (ASA)
Mr James Evans, President, ASA, thanked the Committee for the opportunity to meet. He highlighted the challenges ASA had experienced and specifically underlined issues of governance, finance and the development of athletes from disadvantaged communities and, to a lesser extent, the issue of transformation. In 2009, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) disbanded the ASA Board, which resulted in a significant amount of institutional knowledge and experience being lost. Since 2009, there had been several temporary committees institutionalised which had seldom made beneficial contributions. The current Board was elected in 2012 and all 11 positions were filled.
Other issues were the overall inexperience of Board members and the absence of a Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Unfortunately, ASA’s current constitution does not allow for independent directors to be hired for the Board. Furthermore, the organisation has operated devoid of a CEO since August, 2012, who was suspended and subsequently dismissed. This has proved to be debilitating to the organisation.
The Board, in particular, has proved to be a very pressing issue. For instance, ASA’s constitution did not fully comply with the 2008 Companies Act, or with the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) constitution. Board members were also interfering with the day-to-day operations of the organisation, which had only undermined ASA’s progress and served disadvantageous to everyone.
Financially, the Board also suffered from tremendous debt that had accumulated since 2007, which was largely attributable to the deficiency of financial and commercial expertise on the Board. As a result of the less than prudent management of the organisations finances in 2012, ASA nearly went bankrupt in August. Fortunately, due to careful management of new revenue, negotiations with creditors and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the ASA has managed to endure.
With regards to transformation, there were only a handful of issues that must be addressed and improved accordingly. Firstly, there was an issue of participation in the area of specialised track and field, where insufficient resources had been allocated to development. Secondly, ASA, along with South Africa, must work to move from the old apartheid era division of the sport into three silos (track and field, road running and cross country), and also from the old demarcations. Lastly, ASA must work to upgrade the skills of women and rural administrators.
In addition, there were also several obstacles in developing athletes from disadvantaged communities, namely in regards to the lack of facilities, well-run clubs and the lack of qualified coaches. In relation to the latter, ASA had attempted to work with the IAAF to hire lecturers that could present courses and train coaches in order to ensure that they were qualified, particularly on the international level. The issue of club management was relatively complex and would need to be collectively tackled with Sport and Recreation South Africa’s (SRSA) club development programme, Cathsetta and the universities that provided sports management courses. An additional challenge had been the disjunction between the school sport system and the federations; there were many areas where there were schools, but no clubs. There needed to be a synergy between schools and the federation so the rural areas could be better served.
In preparation for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, ASA had three primary goals: developing the institutionally competency to host a world class championship; winning enough medals to ensure that South Africa topped the medals table at the African Championships; and furthering the development of athletes in order for South Africa to have a strong showing in Rio. Sufficient funding, experienced administrators and healthy international relations would be integral to achieving these goals.
Mr T Lee (DA) enquired why Board members were calling Mr Evans a “lone ranger” who, allegedly, made decisions without the Board’s approval.
Mr Evans replied that he was perfectly prepared to send all the minutes from the last two years to the Committee and that he would resign if the Committee found discrepancies. He asserted that he was a strong advocate of keeping minutes and assured the Committee that everything was recorded.
Mr Lee referred to another allegation in which SASCOC had contended that Mr Evans was on the payroll of ASA.
Mr Evans replied that it would be quite clear from minutes that he was not on the payroll of ASA.
Mr Lee enquired about the prior CEO’s impact on the company and how ASA dismissed him.
Mr Evans replied that there was a confidentially agreement he needed to honour, one in which several Board members had not upheld. He admitted, though, that ASA did not dismiss the prior CEO with a golden handshake. Rather, the CEO was called before a disciplinary hearing, which recommended that he be dismissed. Consequently, the CEO brought ASA to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
Mr Lee alluded to the issue of minimal funding and mentioned an athlete who practiced athletics in the communities, where streets were literally blocked off, and asked Mr Evans if a similar programme could be implemented throughout South Africa, especially in the poorer communities. He added that it was not only cost effective, but would bring athletics to the people.
Mr Evans replied that this was a brilliant initiative and that there were currently similar projects of that nature. The idea behind the programme was essentially to host an athletics meeting in the streets where kids would run 50-meter, 100-meter sprints etc. He continued that the project had started to incorporate field equipment, such as the javelin. The initiative was something that needed to be broadened throughout the country, though; the problem was the capacity issue.
Mr M Dikgacwi (ANC) asked what the current situation was with the Board members who were interfering with the day-to-day activities and whether there was a healthy relationship amongst Board members.
Mr Evans replied that there was not a healthy relationship, but rather that there was a divide between Members. Members would reach agreements during meetings then disagree afterwards. The Company Secretary resigned because he found it so difficult to work with the Board members. One problem was the lack of training for Board members. The Committee should suggest (to the Board) that all members should be trained for their duties and responsibilities. Furthermore, many members did not have sufficient financial knowledge.
The Chairperson asked how the Board members were elected (if they possessed such little expertise).
Mr Evans replied that Board members were elected through mass elections.
Mr Dikgacwi enquired how the staff were paid with so little revenue.
Mr Evans replied that the staff had not been paid, but that this would be sorted out by the end of the month.
Mr G Mackenzie (COPE) stated that ASA must amend its constitution to allow it to hire independent directors to compensate for the lack of financial and commercial expertise on the Board. This was an urgent issue that needed to be addressed.
Mr Evans replied that there was not a general desire amongst Board members to amend the constitution.
Mr Mackenzie continued and affirmed that the latest government regulations had severe penalties for Director’s who evaded judiciary responsibilities and that it was unacceptable that the current Directors were non-functional and inexperienced. It was not an exaggeration that these Board members could be arrested for lack of governance and mismanagement of funds.
Mr Evans agreed with Mr Mackenzie and said that it had been explained to the current Board on several occasions.
Mr Mackenzie asked why marathons, from all over the country, fell under the ASA’s jurisdiction and how they could be efficiently managed when ASA was so inadequately financed. In addition, he suggested that the ASA should develop grass fields and host various tournaments at the junior level in order to foster children’s athleticism and ultimately propel them onto the world stage. Children do not need the fancy gear; they just want to run.
Mr Evans replied that there was actually a long-term athlete development programme that did not organise formal events, but rather focused on simple athletic functions. These sporting tournaments were very cheap, costing only R3,000. These outings could be executed virtually anywhere, such as a field or a street.
Mr Mackenzie also recommended that ASA establish a junior championship in South Africa in an effort to cultivate talent and send athletes to the senior level. He emphasised on deliverance and stated that winning one silver medal in the last event of the Olympics was unacceptable.
Mr Evans replied that competitions took place and cited a junior championship that was approaching in one month, as an example. He added that ASA had a very high standard of performance for the junior level and that the junior championship had been very successful.
Mr S Mmusi (ANC) asked if the lack of revenue was largely attributable to the absence of institutional knowledge.
Mr Evans answered that it was undoubtedly attributable to a lack of institutional knowledge, especially the absence of a CEO.
The Chairperson asked if the use of performance-enhancing drugs was a prevalent issue.
Mr Evans replied that it was not a rampant issue. He admitted, though, that several (South African) athletes failed their drug test the previous year. However, this did not necessarily translate to an increased usage of performance-enhancing drugs, but rather pointed to athletes naivety of what foods, liquids or pills were permissible. Educational courses needed to be implemented to teach the athletes about what substances were prohibited. The rural areas also presented challenges for testing. Administering several drug tests between Johannesburg and Pretoria was achievable, but providing testing for three to four competitions a day in the rural areas, where the roads were in poor condition, or completely nonexistent, was simply not feasible.
Mr Peter Lourens, Chair of Track and Field, ASA, introduced himself and continued to touch on several issues that had been discussed throughout the meeting. He stated that Board members did not need qualifications to be a good leader. Everyone was always a “first-timer” when they began their specific career and time must be allotted in order for them to cultivate a specific skill set. With regards to the issue of the CEO, the confidentiality clause had been signed by the lawyers on behalf of the Board members. As for the contract being signed, Mr Evans did ultimately sign it, but the Board should have been informed of the content of the contract. The main objective was to provide athletes with the opportunity to participate and qualify for international competitions. ASA now had to locate sponsors because, as pointed out, the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was not a sponsor. He also stated that there was confusion regarding the issue of minutes as the Board meetings differred from the Board of Directors meetings. He then confirmed with Mr Evans that ASA had received R17,000,000 from the National Lottery.
Mr Evans replied that he was unsure.
Mr Lourens questioned his uncertainty and stated that Mr Evans was on the Board with him at the time.
Mr Evans clarified that this was a false accusation and he was not on the Board at this time. Mr Lourens was referring to an interim Board that he had resigned from before the National Lottery money was received.
Mr Lourens dismissed Mr James Evan’s claim and asserted that they had served on the Board together at that time.
Mr Evans raised his hands in shock from the relentless allegations.
Mr Lourens replied that Mr Evans should know, regardless of when he left the Board, how much money the National Lottery gave to ASA. He admitted, though, that he, himself, knew very little of financial situation of ASA.
The Chairperson then sought clarity on whether Mr Lourens was a Board member, seeing as Board members should be knowledgeable of their organisation’s financial situation.
Mr Lourens replied that he was a Board member but did not know all the intricate details of ASA’s financial situation. He agreed with Mr Evans that the relationships and dynamics of the Board were not healthy and that it was starved of leadership. With regards to ASA’s development plans, the main purpose was to produce athletes and medals (at international championship), and added that track and field was experiencing a difficult time accomplishing this. His job was to draw up qualifying standards for athletes and conveyed his selfless intentions for ASA; he worked to benefit the children and athletes of South Africa. Lastly, he clarified that many of the answers said here (by Mr James Evans) should be put into context.
The Chairperson stated that Committee should deliberate and consider meeting with the Board to engage in a friendly discussion to tackle some of their current issues.
Mr Dicgacwi said it was clear there was a bigger problem (with ASA) and agreed that the Committee should meet with the entire Board to discuss potential solutions.
Mr Rabotapi also agreed and stated that it was the athletes who ultimately suffered. The sooner the problem was resolved the better.
The Chairperson asked how many Boards did ASA have.
Mr Evans replied that ASA had one Board. ASA was a non-profit company in terms of the Company’s Act, which the letterhead clearly stated. Anyone who stood for elections to the Board had to have understood that. There could not be two boards in a company. He added that he was completely and utterly flawed when Mr Lourens differentiated the Board from the Board of Directors—they were the same thing. When someone became a Board member they inherently become a member of the Board of Directors.
The Chairperson asked if the Board members were elected by province.
Mr Evans confirmed that was correct. He continued to clarify some of allegations directed toward him from Mr Lourens and asserted that being a President of an organisation warranted him from having to send out documentation to every single Board member; the documentation was available in the office and all members were entitled to ask for it. In regards to the Lottery money, it was intended for a specific project and not to pay off debt.
Mr Lee said he did not want fingers to be pointed. He contended that there should be regular Board meetings, where all these issues were discussed, and said he needed the minutes to ensure that everything was in order.
The Chairperson expressed his gratitude for ASA meeting with the Committee and said that it was very useful to learn about the difficulties the organisation was facing. The Committee would draw on ASA’s recommendations in order to assist it. He then asked how many women were on the Board.
Mr Lourens replied that there were five women on the Board.
The Chairperson emphasised that ASA was going to the 2016 Olympics on South Africa’s behalf. If ASA’s organisational structure was not perfectly sound it would not win any medals. ASA’s challenges must be addressed and combated very soon. It was important for ASA to financially recover in order to address the delinquent youths in South Africa that did not have the opportunity to access recreational fields or facilities. By giving adolescents something to do, it would not be partaking in illegal activities that crippled South Africa. There was no reason ASA could not be the best run organisation. He concluded by wishing ASA good luck in the 2016 Olympics, along with the various competitions over the next couple of years.
The meeting was adjourned.
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