Looking for short, fat white men to make up quota in basketball team
TWO years ago in this column, I mocked Sports Minister Steve Tshwete by suggesting that his must be the cushiest job in the Cabinet. All he was required to do, I insensitively suggested, was to travel around the world at taxpayers' expense, cheer the national team at major sporting events and attend a stream of riotous parties.
One has to admire his energy and enthusiasm, although I am bound to say that the minister is somewhat fastidious when it comes to choosing those sporting events to which he is prepared to lend his support.
While waiting to board a flight to London last year, I met the proud, green track-suited members of the SA underwater orienteering squad in the bar at Johannesburg International. They were off to some remote Eastern bloc country to take part in the Underwater Orienteering World Championships and believed they were in with a good chance.
"Where," I asked, "is Minister Tshwete?" Perhaps he had been delayed in the traffic. Anyway, rather as the Arthurian knights left a seat empty at the Round Table, we bought an extra beer just in case "he" appeared. Sadly he didn't, and our dejected underwater champions boarded their flight without the minister's benediction.
For the uninformed, underwater orienteering involves swimming around in the murky depths of a lake and finding your way from one point to another with the aid of a compass. As a spectator, it's rather difficult to cheer the national team because you are securely rooted to the muddy bank of the lake while they are underwater and, therefore, completely invisible from the shore. The only thing they can hear is the sound of their own air bubbles so any amount of lusty shouting is a complete waste of time.
For similar reasons I suspect, television coverage of underwater orienteering events has been scant (even on satellite TV), thus denying an entire generation the pleasure of watching people grope their way through pond weed from one part of a dark lake to another. If darts can make it onto television, then why not underwater orienteering?
One reason is the problem of lighting. The water is so murky down there that, no matter how strong the lights, anything more than three metres away becomes a shadowy blur. This has obviously affected sponsorship too because companies don't want to throw millions of rands at sports sponsorship if the company logo is invisible. Maybe there is an opportunity for tobacco sponsorship here?
However, the main reason that television companies, corporate sponsors and the Sports Minister have ignored underwater orienteering is that it is a thunderingly dull, mind-numbingly boring activity which urgently needs an injection of vitality from someone with some imagination and commercial savvy. What about introducing nude underwater orienteering for a start? Then throw some dangerous eels and sea serpents into the lake just to make things more interesting. Within months, I reckon I could make underwater orienteering one of the highest-earning sports in the world. I confidently predict that, before long, mothers will be cancelling their daughters' tennis lessons and sending them underwater in search of fame and fortune.
The other reason that Tshwete didn't make it to the airport to wave goodbye to our sub-aqueous heroes that day is that they were all white; although when they're underwater you would hardly know the difference. Because of the repressive apartheid era, blacks were denied the opportunity to fall into a deep dark lake and swim from one place to another underwater unless thay had the approval and support of members of the security forces. Now, thanks to provisions in the Sport and Recreation Bill, all this is likely to change. Sports administrators and selectors will face prison sentences if SA sports teams don't reflect the demographics of the country.
The Bill is still being studied by legal experts who are expected to add amendments. Perhaps one of these will be a clause which says that, even if the selectors have picked a team that reflects the rainbowness of the nation, if the team loses the selectors should have their personal assets seized and redistributed to disappointed fans. Repeated offences would result in the selectors being fed to hungry crocodiles.
I strongly believe this landmark legislation will set a world trend. Already, I am told, the Harlem Globetrotters have been instructed to include more short, fat white men in their team.