soccer field

South Africa’s Sport and Recreation Amendment Bill: Increased governmental oversight and preventing ex-convicts from participating in international sporting events

February 04, 2020

On 11 December 2019, the South African Department of Sport and Recreation released a draft Bill which seeks to amend the National Sport and Recreation Act, 1998. The National Sport and Recreation Amendment Bill is open for public comment until 28 February 2020.

The proposed amendment, which relates to the Determination of Sport and Recreation Policy provides that “The Minister may from time to time determine and publish policy objectives to be achieved by Sports and Recreation, the Sports Confederation and sports and recreation bodies”. Since its release last year, many people have come out in criticism against the Bill and have raised concerns around the possible wide ranging powers the Bill intends granting to the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture to dictate sport and recreation policy.

The Draft Bill does not specifically grant the minister authority to dictate sport and recreation policy at a confederation or regulatory body level and only permits the minister to determine and publish policy objectives and not determine actual policy. What’s the difference between policy objectives and actual policy one may ask?  In reality how the distinction will be implemented remains to be seen. A plain interpretation of the wording envisages that each sports’ respective confederation or regulatory body is free to determine its own policies, so long as the policies achieve the objectives as determined by the Minister.

The minister’s proposed authority to determine policy objectives will curb confederation or regulatory body independence and impose government intervention. The question is whether collectively aligned policy guidance is something South African sporting federations require.

In addition to the changes envisaged in respect of sport and recreation policy, the Draft Bill also contemplates that:

  • sport and recreation bodies must act in consultation with the minister when bidding and hosting international events; and
  • the fitness industry will fall under the auspices of the act and the minister may establish a Fitness Industry Regulatory Authority by notice in the Gazette which must oversee, administer and govern a safe environment for the fitness industry in the prescribed manner.

These proposed changes seem appropriate given the cost, logistical and administrative burdens which accompany hosting, even relatively small, international events, and the excessively high number of consumer related complaints specific to the fitness industry although the ‘fitness industry’ exists in a multitude of forms that will not easily be regulated.

One of the proposed changes in the Draft Bill that can be criticised is Section 4 (c) (a) (v) which will prohibit sport or recreation bodies from allowing players, officials or managers from participating in international sporting events if they have been convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment without the option of a fine. This section seems contradictory to other provisions in the Draft Bill which requires sport or recreation bodies to abide by the key government priorities such as “promotion of nation building” and social cohesion and “educational promotion of issues of sports”.  Should Section 4 (c) (a) (v) of the Draft Bill be included, South Africa could miss out on its Sonny Liston, Allen Iverson, Michael Vick or Mohammed Ali; all athletes that achieved redemption and sporting greatness following prison sentences.

Since the Draft Bill is still open for comment, it remains to be seen what the net result will be, and what exact changes will be made to the Act. There are other proposed changes and readers interested in sports and its administration should find the Draft Bill on the internet and use the opportunity to comment.