Ashwin: Get more popcorn, it's set to run and run
Mallett, Willemse more likely to shoot each other than the breeze, but one thing's for sure: it’s good for ratings
The Ashwin Willemse saga drags on, although details of what set off the former Springbok wing continue to elude South Africans in the same way he did defenders.
Willemse stormed off set at SuperSport on May 19, claiming fellow studio pundits Nick Mallett and Naas Botha had patronised and undermined him.
That has escalated to accusations of racism which Willemse and his counsel are to test in the Equality Court.
Willemse went that route because he felt SuperSport’s internal investigation was not a fit-for-purpose exercise. To be fair, without Willemse’s input that report does seem a bit like a tricycle without a front wheel. It’s noisily going nowhere.SuperSport spent an inordinate amount of energy (heaven knows how much money) to have the report compiled. (Let’s hope that won’t be passed on to subscribers.) They were desperate to be seen doing something, but the reality is they could have avoided this pong had they acted earlier.The report focused on the on-air activities on the day in question, and indeed previous heated exchanges involving the trio. Its scope did not incorporate what was said away from the broadcaster’s cameras and microphones.
What is clear is that SuperSport’s management ignored the tensions in their rugby studio. Their on-air “talent” is placed on a pedestal, with management either too limp-wristed or starry-eyed to effectively deal with issues when they arise.
In this case it involved some combustible characters. Lest we forget, they are three very different characters. Two are bound by race, two by first language, with Botha almost symbolically occupying the middle seat.
Willemse grew up in the “hood” where a step back doesn’t come naturally. An olive branch is something he’d much rather have smoked in his younger days. When contacted Willemse was loath to comment but suggested he may be able to do so soon. It would appear he is seeking recourse SuperSport can no longer provide.Botha is a true blueblood of South African rugby, thanks to a career forged almost entirely before the end of isolation. When contacted he refused to comment but he seemed deeply irritated by the affair, even suggesting there can be no winners. It may be a few weeks before Botha resurfaces in SuperSport’s studios.Mallett and Willemse are worlds apart. Mallett was born in England, educated at Oxford, and is a decorated former Springbok coach who resides in the elevated part of Cape Town’s southern suburbs. Pure class. Off camera he and Willemse are more likely to shoot each other than the breeze.
Mallett was more difficult to track down. In the absence of his comment it is perhaps worth taking a flippant look at what might transpire if the at times irritable Mallett was hauled in front of the Equality Court. If he felt the squeeze under cross examination (if that exists there) he too might succumb to an outburst similar to that of Colonel Nathan R Jessup in the climax to the army court drama A Few Good Men:
“You can’t handle the truth. We live in a world where we need to increase viewership. You weep for Willemse and curse Naas and I. You have that luxury. You have that luxury of not knowing what I know, that while Willemse’s walkout, although tragic, probably drove up our ratings. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, probably helps retain subscribers. You want me in that studio, you need me in that studio.”
And as denouements go: “You are God damn right I did!” would be pure box office.
Get more popcorn, this saga is far from over.