National Sports Awards – an opportunity missed?

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There is something about sports that is inspiring.  Whether it is powering sight of the barefooted Lebo-Diana Phalula in the last phase of a 10km race, or the warm embrace among players in a rugby team that is on song, sports is emotional.  There is something about sports that makes you wish you could transfer what athletes do with their bodies; the same amount of grit, intensity and dedication to your own life.  There is something about sports that makes an unfit, out of shape and uncoordinated person like me sit up watching a match in the Indian Super League with players whose names I cannot pronounce; completely oblivious of the fact that it is 0h13 on week night.

There is something about sports that is intoxicating.  It is for this reason that every year in November the nation stops for one night only, to acknowledge athleticism.  Not for themselves, but for us as a nation. It is a night of red carpets, glitz and glamour where athletes swap tracksuits for tuxedos and athletic shoes for stilettos and moccasins.  But most importantly it is a night where the entire nation takes a moment to say thank you to a group of people who dedicate their lives to help us mirror our own.

So you see, the National Sports Awards are not so much about rewarding the athletes for doing well, but an expression of our gratitude.  Because if we are honest with ourselves, we should sincerely answer this question; do the athletes even care about the award?  If we had to ask Orlando Pirates players if they would prefer a second star on their shirts, or a National Sports Award for Team of the year what do you think they will say?  If you had to ask Cornel Fredericks if he would prefer winning National Sports Man of the Year over beating Nigel Amos and setting a world record?  The question is so rhetorical; the man would laugh at you.

The National Sports Awards are not for the athlete, but for us.  Sure one could argue that a player like Portia Modise would have plenty of use for the one million Rand she won.  Because the injustice that is the treatment of Banyana Banyana players as compared to the Bafana Bafana players in terms of earnings is despicable.  One may even expand it by saying if corporate SA was not so skewed in terms of endorsements then Modise would probably donate the lot. I suspect that if I was Portia Modise I would have been much happier with the same R 500 000 (the other half of the million is an obligatory donation to school of her choice for sports development) in R 10 000 instalments over 50 months.

It is for this reason that the National Sports Awards end up looking like the Sports and Recreation Ministry’s way of rewarding people for doing well at something they have not been encouraged to participate in, in the first place.  To quote Spots Minister, Fikile Mbalula, “it’s like praising the fish for swimming”. Therein lies the irony which in turn causes the confusion about the event.

Anyway, let me stop with the politics.  The real question I would like to ask is this.

Given the little coverage junior sporting codes get in our media; do we really need an award for “Best Newcomer”?  Sure every now and then you will find someone like Gazelle Magermann, who is so good at what she does, she is actually ranked number one in the world.  Or someone like Rivaldo Coetzee who is such a talent, he breaks every record for being the youngest player at all levels of the national football team. Perhaps then you could give that athlete an Excellence Award. But if a young athlete is doing extremely well compared to his peers, then the federation can give him/her an award because then it is an “apples-for-apples” comparison.

But in the context of our gratitude, would the country not be better served with an award for Comeback Athlete of the Year Award?  I mean – think about it. At a time when so many things are beating down on our spirits.  Be it crime, fuel price, cost of living, interest rates and load shedding – all are sharp instruments that pierce our happiness.  Would the country not be better served to stop for a moment and congratulate someone who faced career threatening injury and fought back to achieve something amazing?

For an example, there is something to be said for someone like Happy Jele. The man went through a career threatening injury, fought that, and came back to captain a team in a Champions League Final.  There is something to be said for Lebogang Mokoena, who was out for more than a year with a hip injury. He fought his way back to fitness, played a few games then picked up a shoulder injury, and soldiered on nonetheless to help his team win the league.  To be honest, there will be a story to be told for the day Jean de Villiers fights his way back to the Bok captaincy and leads his country to a World Cup title.

Remember the aforementioned postulate; “THE AWARDS ARE NOT FOR ATHLETES, BUT FOR US AS A NATION”.

And so without a doubt, as nominees’ names flash and winners are announced, the benefit of seeing our lives through the athlete’s triumph would be enormous.  That sight alone is enough to inspire a nation to put their shoulder to the wheel and keep pushing.

Just a thought

The tempest prognosticator.

Themba A Dikgale

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