Shades of Piet Koornhof in absurd sports policies - Businesslive

Nov 01, 2020
1 November 2020 - For all the wrong reasons I was reminded last week of Piet Koornhof and the convolutions of 1970s apartheid sports policy.

Michael Morris
For all the wrong reasons I was reminded last week of Piet Koornhof and the convolutions of 1970s apartheid sports policy.

At this distance, one can discern in events — pre-1976, no less — the budding realisation among National Party strategists of the inescapable mismatch between race ideology and the claims of reason and modernity.

As a young man, intriguingly enough, Koornhof had foreseen the inevitable failure of the system he later chose to serve: having won a place among the rare pantheon of Rhodes scholars, he gained his doctorate for an analysis that said sustaining apartheid must lead to anarchy or revolution. That was in 1952.

In time, Koornhof proved himself a loyal servant to the cause. As pressure mounted on the Nats, however, they felt compelled to tinker with the system, seemingly hoping to make it appear a little less brutish and more amenable to civilised impulses.

In the increasingly hostile sporting arena, it fell to Koornhof to square the party’s race ideology with how the rest of the world got on with life. The lunatic result is captured in a June 1974 report headlined “World-Class Men Only in Mixed Fights”. It began: “Boxing tournaments between Whites and Blacks could take place only on the basis of multinational international standards, the Minister of Sport, Dr PGJ Koornhof, said here.

“‘Multinational meetings are prestige meetings of international standards,’” Dr Koornhof said. ‘The South African Boxing Board of Control cannot, for obvious reasons, allow just any fights,’ he added. The boxers had to meet stipulated standards. It was the responsibility of the board to define these standards. Though a boxer might be champion in his section, it did not mean he was of world class.”

All quite clear, isn’t it.

Sports policy was hard to fathom, and notoriously changeable, being largely a dashing extempore performance on Koornhof’s part. When Koornhof died in 2007, veteran parliament watcher John Scott recalled an occasion when leader of the house Hendrik Schoeman was asked what the government’s sports policy was. “I don’t know,” he is said to have replied. “I haven’t spoken to Piet today.”

This would all be quite amusing if it weren’t for the parallels of absurdity in SA’s sports policy today — and the frankly shocking acquiescence in the face of it by players, spectators, sports fans and commentators.

Consider this spectacle from last week, as reported by SuperSport: “The Mpumalanga Sunbirds were the second team to be docked points in the Telkom Netball League. They were up against the Kingdom Queens in the first-division B semifinal and initially won 43-42, but have now forfeited the match according to rules 3.6 and 3.7 of the tournament. The Sunbirds played the entire second quarter 6/1 (six blacks and one white) and have now been docked points, losing the game 0-42.”

They won, but they lost? Because they had too many black players? Yes, and by netball’s rules, one of which is that “[the] competing team should play 2/5 or 3/4 in each quarter of the game. If a team plays 6/1 on court for the entire quarter and complied with 2/5 or 3/4 in other quarters, that team will be considered noncompliant of target system and such teams will forfeit points and goals of that game.”

Were they alive, NP panjandrums of the 1970s would doubtless regard all of this with bemused approval. The rest of us should be ashamed of such joyless nonsense, and reject it as the insult it is to our intelligence and our humanity.

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations.

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