New law could be catastrophic for sport

If broadcasting rights in South Africa are given away for free, less – not more – sport will be shown on television (Image: ISTOCK)

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) recently published draft legislation that will force television stations to broadcast for free to the broader public all sports events that are of “national importance”.  In terms of the proposed legislation, Icasa will have the right to decide which sports events will be deemed to be of “national importance”.

If this becomes law it will have far-reaching consequences for national sports bodies, individual sportsmen and -women, sponsors, and the grassroots development of sport across the country.

The most shocking aspect of the draft legislation is that Icasa appears to have no concept of broadcasting rights.  Icasa apparently wants to ensure that big international sports events like the World Cups in soccer, rugby and cricket, the Olympic Games, and all overseas matches of the Springboks and Proteas are shown free on the SABC channels.  The broadcasting rights to these events are worth billions of Rands and are not owned by South African sports bodies.  They will not be given away for nothing.  It begs belief that Icasa thinks these events should be shown for free on SABC.

South African sports bodies only own the broadcasting rights for matches and events in South Africa.  Most of these bodies derive the biggest portion of their annual income from broadcasting rights.  For the big three sports in South Africa (rugby, cricket and soccer) this is about 60%. 

If broadcasting rights in South Africa are given away for free, less – not more – sport will be shown on television.  It will in turn also diminish the value of those broadcasting rights that are being paid for.  A classic example of this is Cricket South Africa’s failed Mzansi Super League.  The tournament was scrapped this year in large part because under the previous administration the broadcasting rights were given away for free to the SABC.     

If sports bodies are forced to give away their broadcasting rights because Icasa deems a match or event to be of “national importance”, they will have less money to finance their sports.  Salaries for athletes, coaches and administrators will drop, as will the income for schools and all the hundreds of academies across the country.  The government is always shouting from the rooftops that more money should be poured into grassroots development, but how will sport bodies fund this if as much as 60% of their income is just taken away?  Talk about shooting yourself in the foot… 

On all media platforms, Icasa is described as the “independent” regulatory body of the South African government, established in 2000 to regulate all aspects of television broadcasting in the public interest.  However, this legislation is clearly aimed at putting an end to MultiChoice’s perceived “monopoly” on the broadcasting of prime sports events, and helping Icasa’s ailing sibling, the SABC. 

MultiChoice broadcasts most professional sport around the world on its SuperSport channels.  By all accounts, SuperSport it is one of the leading sports broadcasters in the world.  It has brought sport into millions of homes, not only in South Africa but the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.  They should be celebrated as an international business success story for the country, like SA Breweries and Nando’s.  To shoot them down because of nepotism between Icasa and the SABC will be a sad loss for South Africa. 

Francois Brink
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