By Mark Etheridge
True to his word, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula on Monday honoured his promises to reward South African sports excellence.
At a large lunch banquet near OR Tambo Airport the minister rolled out his programme of excellence to more than a hundred of our sports stars.
Among the recipients were members of Team South Africa’s group of youngsters at the 2nd African Youth Games held in Gaborone, Botswana recently.
There was also recognition for our boxers, both professional and ‘open’ (the new description for the amateur code.
And our Comrades medal-winning runners and netballers also got in on the act.
“I remember promoter Nic Durandt once telling me that when the boxers got back to the country after winning their fights no-one knew about it and they didn’t even know where the doors of Parliament were.
“Today I see him here and his boxers are amongst those honoured today,” said Mbalula who is serving a second tenure in his position.
“To excel in important for our country as a winning nation. It’s you the athletes who are appreciated, recognised and loved by us all,” he said.
“From now on no athlete must win and come back without the deserved recognition,” assured Mbalula.
The young athletes at the African Youth Games will remember Mbalula’s parting words at the farewell function in Boksburg where he told them that they would be rewarded for excellence.
He duly came good and gold medallists at the Games each received R5000, silver medallists R4000 and bronze medallists R3000.
That meant that someone like Pretoria schoolgirl Michelle Benson, who won two golds and a silver in the road cycling in Gaborone, went home with her bank balance positively boosted to the tune of R14000 and some of the swimmers banked even more than that.
There was also recognition for the Junior Bok rugby side who lost by just one point, 21-20 to England in the IRB final in New Zealand recently.
Mbalula said that this was just the start. “I want to take sport the schools and in the next 30 years I want each and every school around our nation to have sports facilities, with coaches.
“After all, we like to judge ourselves against first world countries like the United States and Australia yet we don’t have nearly the same resources… that will all change going forward.”