Pic: @Icasa (Twitter)
A high school student from Pretoria had his submission among the 39 the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA) has to consider when it reviews its sports broadcasting regulations. The regulator held public hearings for five days at the end of May at the Irene Country Club in Centurion, located in South Africa’s Gauteng province.
Inputs from Sanda Mgedezi, a Grade 11 learner from Pretoria Boys High School, will enjoy the same esteem as those from FIFA, professors, major broadcasters, telecoms giants, and even soccer bosses.
ICASA is the official regulator of South Africa’s communications, broadcasting and postal services sectors. In December 2018 ICASA published the Draft Sports Broadcasting Service Amendment Regulations. The regulator aims to amend sections of on free-to-air and subscription broadcasters to give the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) a bigger role in airing sports events as the country's public broadcaster.
Sanda made his oral presentation on the first day of the public hearings. Free-to-air channels Kwese TV and e.TV, the SABC, and subscription-based MultiChoice also made presentations at the hearings.
The "humble" submission
Sanda also made his “humble” submission on the proposed regulations. His family hails from the rugby-crazed King Williams Town, a small town in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. He gives his grandfather credit for encouraging his passion for sport.
Sanda's mother, Viwe Mgedezi, says her father was a hardworking sportsman and a very hard disciplinarian, but the late Phike Solomon Mgedezi played for the small town’s Thembu Rugby Union outfit and passed his passion for the game to young Sanda.
She says in many ways, Sanda was the son her father never had, and the boy and his grandfather are similar in many ways. She suspects her son's enthusiasm for rugby, his leadership style, and how he carries himself as a player and a man were directly influenced by the elder Mgedezi.
“Sanda started playing at the age of seven and my dad was there every day, for every match and every practice. I think that is why he says his grandfather inspired him. They watched matches together,” she said. According to her, her father and her son were inseparable.
“I used to hang out with him a lot because I liked cars and he was always driving, going somewhere, fetching this, delivering that, errands basically,” explained Sanda, adding that he went everywhere with his grandfather. "From taking my grandmother to the mall, I’d go with him to church, to work, and all that.”
Back then, he had no idea that his grandfather was once a sportsman. When he started attending primary school and playing sport, his grandfather surprised him with stories about his own sporting games, playing for the Thembu and other unions.
“I was quite fascinated because when I got to primary it was going to be my first time playing rugby. I did watch it with him a few times before going to primary and starting to play, so when he told me that he also used to play, it made me more interested.”
His mother says children who have Sanda’s kind of passion and who want to make their mark on society through sport need support from the very beginning. She says sometimes parents find it funny when children talk about their big dreams.
“We become dismissive when they say they love sport or will become a president, a coach or lawyer one day. Especially when they are still around four or five years old,” she laughs. But she did not dismiss her son's dreams.
He was still a toddler when the family first noticed his love for sport. His mother says sport is more of a calling than a game to him. And, she adds, not just rugby. “If you put him on a cricket pitch, he will play and enjoy himself. When people talk about soccer or motor-racing, he will be part of that conversation.”
The voice of the youth
It was Sanda's mother that told him about the deadline for sending submissions and inputs to ICASA. Once he understood the formalities, he had to sit and make sense of what the proposed regulations would actually mean and what effect they would have on his life, and the lives of other young people like him.
“The regulations themselves are a bit confusing so I had to get clarity on some of the things, as in what it means,” he explained, adding that watching a lot of sport did help in his understanding.
“So I kind of knew that this isn’t watched a lot, maybe this or that needs to change. So it wasn’t hard for me from that perspective to give my input," he says. But being part of the conversation was important. He does not think the interests of young people are always considered when big decisions about sport are made.
“I think they are really more into how many viewers they can get, how much money they can make, and they don't really take into consideration the impact on us,” he says.
Sanda took time out of his busy mid-year exam schedule to make the oral presentation before ICASA. He says it did not immediately sink in that he was sharing a platform with representatives from the South African Rugby Union and prominent sports administrators such as Orlando Pirates Football Club boss Irvin Khoza. In fact, this was a global stage, but Sanda says he did not feel sidelined and feels that his views were afforded the same seriousness as others.
As the fifth fifth speaker on the day, Sanda presented just after the University of Cape Town's Jeremy Griffiths-Evans. Luckily, Sanda explains, he was able to keep calm because the crowd in the gallery was not so big.
“It was a relatively small panel of people. I could sit down and speak to hundreds of people so it wasn’t as intimidating,” he says, joking about how heated a rugby game and the spectators can get.
“I would have chosen to present there any day over tackling some guys that are our rivals on the field,” he laughs. I's not long before he turns serious again though, as he explains that he tries not to think of any challenge as bigger than ones he has faced before. The fact that the presenter before him, Griffiths-Evans, had a masters degree didn’t really bother him, it would seem.
Presenting before Griffiths-Evans was sports industry researcher David Sidenberg, who represented for BMI Sports, an independent sports research company. Sports writer Sibusiso Mjikeliso, who is following the regulations saga closely, says Siderberg gave a comprehensive study of the sports sponsorship market and the value broadcasting brings in the sporting economy.
Mjikeliso says in his blog Siderberg was also scathing in his analysis of the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s capacity to increase its coverage of sports events. According to Siderberg, the SABC shows less than 2, 000 hours of sport per year compared to the 90, 000 hours that are currently being broadcast.
In his written submission Sanda said, “We as the youth must be exposed to many sporting codes and all elements of sports from a young age so that we can get more people to participate in sport.”
While pointing out that SABC’s free to air channels made it easier for youth to access their sports icons, he stresses that broadcasting goes hand in hand with technology. He also cautions that new digital platforms might soon leave the SABC with a dwindling sports viewership.
“Netflix for an example spends a lot of money on research, which helps them determine the type of content that their viewers want and when,” he explains, referring Netflix’s use of data from its more than 140 million subscribers to influence 80% of content decisions.
A proud mother
Sanda’s mother says she is proud that he has added his voice to the broader conversation on the impact of the economics of sport on youth.
“What makes me happy is that he realised that the one thing he loves most, that he can do even in his sleep, is not just a game. He saw that there is a chance to influence the sports landscape in the country for other children. Even those who are still very young but promising,” she said.
She says his concern in the sports broadcasting regulations issue is that most people only have access to the SABC. Many sports fanatics in South Africa do not have the money for subscription services or the data to stream on platforms like YouTube.
Mgedezi’s career in sports has been illustrious thus far. In primary school he captained the under-9, under-11 and the under-12 A teams. His proudest moment in primary school sports, he says, was when he got the nod for the Border Rugby under-12 and-13 teams.
He also played for the Blue Bulls under-15 side and now plays for their second and third teams. His passion for sports dominated much of his written submission.
Sanda says his summer holidays would not be complete without “doses and doses” of cricket, and also mentions that Springbok rugby captain Siya Kolisi’s pure passion gives him goosebumps. Other sporting idols include athlete Caster Semenya, who Sanda says he has massive respect for. He says her drive for excellence and “CAN DO” attitude has inspired him since he was six years old.