The introduction on Dec. 11 of a draft amendment bill by South Africa’s Department of Sports, Arts and Culture has raised concerns of governmental overreach — that athletics would essentially be nationalized, with the minister of sports free to oversee the affairs of various independent sporting bodies.

While the National Sport and Recreation Amendment Bill — a potential revision of the 1998 National Sport and Recreation Act — has many provisions, the crux of the matter is that the minister, Nathi Mthethwa, will be allowed to establish policy for all sports. And that could jeopardize South Africa’s participation in international competitions like the Olympics, as the International Olympic Committee forbids governmental oversight of sporting codes.

In addition, the amendment allows for the creation of a Sport Arbitration Tribunal to mediate disputes between the various bodies, regulate combat sport and the fitness industry, establish procedures for bidding/hosting international sporting events and delegate powers.

Various parties have cried foul. The Democratic Alliance has written to Mthethwa, expressing concern about the brevity of the 30-day comment period on the bill, which came to a close on Jan. 10. Veronica van Dyk, the Deputy Shadow Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, has likewise demanded an extension.

Another concern that has been raised is that the reach of Mthethwa and Co. would extend to various fitness clubs, including Virgin Active and Planet Fitness.

Sumayya Khan, acting director-general of the department of sports, recreation and culture, told City Press that any fears about the amendment were unfounded:

“The minister only wants to create a mechanism so that he can intervene by instituting investigations without interfering in the (sports’ day-to-day operations). … There are just too many sporting federations getting involved in court cases. We are looking for a way to get involved by handling disputes internally.”

Steve Cornelius, a sports law professor at the University of Pretoria, told that same media outlet that the “consequences of this are very serious,” while Kobus Marais, a board member of the South Africa Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) called the amendment “outrageous” and warned: 

“(The IOC and FIFA) will not hesitate to suspend local sports federations if the minister is allowed to interfere directly in sport, as proposed by the amendment bill.”

There is clearly much more to discuss, and presumably many tweaks ahead. But suffice it to say that this amendment has raised concerns throughout South Africa’s sporting community.