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Mind Sports South Africa: Where Gaming and Politics meet

6 min read

South Africa is in a unique position when it comes to eSports: unlike other countries where eSports is almost entirely organized and run through private leagues and association, we have a public, government organization that can organize official international matches. They even receive government funding and can give eSports athletes national colors. Unfortunately, they face similar issues to other governmental bodies.

Who owns the flag?

Yesterday, Gavin told you about the issues a team wishing to play Battlefield 4 at the ESL. They were not allowed to use the name South Africa, nor were they allowed to make use of their national flag. As a member of SASCOC, the MSSA is the body tasked with the development of mind sports, as well as awarding national colors for international competitions – this is in much the same way as Rugby Union is responsible for developing Rugby and elevating some players to the level of “Springboks”. But do they have control over the use of the flag?

South african pride

There is legislation surrounding sports, the flag and national colors. I want to be clear here – I’m not a lawyer. As my studies of European Law proved to me, there will be legal experts on even the smallest field (there are experts on EU alcohol laws), so I’m sure there is a South African sports law expert somewhere who could contradict me. However, the law is quite clear on the use of the flag, and differs from the laws on national colors. It appears to me that the MSSA has gotten the two confused.

According to the Government Gazette published in 2001, there are rules about the shape of the flag as well as general instructions on respect for the flag and proper treatment of the flag. These include not using it to cover objects during unveilings or for use as a tablecloth (obviously) – no restrictions are given here on citizens using the flag to represent national origin or pride. In Andre Louw’s Sports Law in South Africa, we get explicit explanation about the use of national colors:

An athlete, person, member federation or organization which […] project himself or herself of itself as representing South Africa in an official capacity in a sporting activity without the written consent of SASCOC or Sport and Recreation SA […] is building of an offense and liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment

Alright, so it is not allowed to wear national colors or present oneself as representing SA without written permission from SASCOC (via MSSA in this case). Considering that the ESL is hosting a country cup, people may assume that a team called South Africa would be representing the country. However, I sincerely doubt that each team captain has official permission from their countries to represent the nation. Now, South Africa looks like a bunch of crazy Australians called “Southern Barbarians” on the list. Perhaps the sports laws still apply in this context, but will SASCOC be doing a raid on Trackmania soon, too, to get rid of all the people purporting to represent their country?

Perth shop

Then there is the use of the flag. What restrictions are there on the use of the flag? As far as I can find, as long as the flag is treated with respect and correctly depicted, anyone can use it to show citizenship or national pride. SASCOC and the MSSA have control over people presenting themselves as representing South Africa, but they do not have specific ownership over the use of the flag. Again, if anyone knows a legal expert specializing in this specific field, their input/correction would be appreciated.

Is this a puppet president?

Last year, we told you how Colin Webster could no longer stand as President of the MSSA. That’s right, according the constitution he had run out of terms in office and had to stand down. During their AGM, the MSSA elected the sole candidate for president, Simphiwe Maphumulo, to that office.

I’m sure Maphumulo is a nice guy. Well, actually, I’m not sure of anything about him. We have not been given any access to him – all communication still goes through Webster. That’s right, if you go to the MSSA Facebook page you will still only see his contact details, and the same is true of the SASCOC member page. I would love to direct you to their official page, but it seems that Facebook and Wikipedia are their official representation. It doesn’t take much to change contact details on Facebook, but it is clear that the president does not want to be contacted, or has been told to avoid contact. When I phoned Webster yesterday for Maphumulo’s contact details, I was advised that permission had not been given to give out his phone numbers. When we used the only channel we could, Facebook, to contact Maphumulo, Gavin received the following response from the MSSA page:

Many people have seen Mr Simphiwe Maphumulo since he has become president of the MSSA. At the moment, the President is finding his feet with the position and will respond to requests through the MSSA’s office.

And when he attempted to contact the new president directly through Facebook, this was the reply:

Hi Gavin, I will only be available next month,I will let you know the date later,thanks

I understand that someone new to a position may not know all the ins and outs of an organization. That said, Maphumulo has been an active participant in the MSSA for many years now, and as the president of a public body he needs to be available to the media to make comments. The lack of access and continued focus on Webster makes it all too easy to jump to the conclusion that Maphumulo is merely a puppet president. I hope to be proven wrong on this, and that the new president takes the MSSA in a positive new direction. Unfortunately, evidence thus far would lead us to believe that Webster is still in charge.

Is this another government body plagued with corruption? If I’m reading into things too much, I sincerely apologize, but it’s very hard to take the change in leadership seriously when I am still forced to contact the former president. The MSSA is quick to point fingers at this site, calling us unprofessional, yet this irregular behavior would not be tolerated in any governmental organization. The MSSA keeps insisting that they are treating eSports like any other sport, so we should treat the MSSA like any other SASCOC member – can you imagine how the media would respond if this happened to top leadership for Cricket or Rugby?

I have contacted the MSSA (aka Colin Webster) with a request for comment. Thus far, we have received no response.

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Last Updated: January 14, 2014

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