SuperSport presenters off air pending a review after Ashwin Willemse walks off
The saga of SuperSport rugby pundit Ashwin Willemse’s walkout of a live broadcast last weekend took a new twist when he and co-presenters Nick Mallett and Naas Botha stood down on Friday.
The trio will not feature on broadcasts for the foreseeable future‚ pending an independent review of the matter‚ chaired by a Senior Counsel‚ commissioned by SuperSport.
The mediator is tasked with resolving the issues around Willemse’s dissatisfaction with allegedly being undermined by Mallett and Botha. Willemse has only made a single comment on the matter since his walkout‚ saying: "The complexity of the issues is very profound."
Last weekend, he directed comments at fellow former Springboks Botha and Mallett before walking off the set following the Lions versus Brumbies match. Willemse‚ a former Springbok wing who played 19 Tests and was a member of the 2007 World Cup-winning squad‚ claimed he‚ "can’t work with people who undermine other people".
In a pointed monologue following a commercial break after the match‚ Willemse let fly at Mallett and Botha. "I’ve been in the game for a long time, like most of us here. As a player‚ I’ve been called a quota for a long time and I’ve worked very hard to earn the respect I have now. I’m not going to sit here and be patronised by these two individuals, who played their rugby during the apartheid era‚ a segregated era."
In a curt statement on Friday, SuperSport said: "We have had discussions this week with all parties in an effort to resolve this matter amicably and expeditiously. Despite good progress initially‚ the matter has unfortunately not been resolved. We have therefore decided to instruct an independent Senior Counsel‚ Advocate Vincent Maleka‚ to chair a review of the incident and to make recommendations to our management.
"Pending the outcome of the review‚ the three presenters involved will not appear on-air. None of the presenters have been suspended and they will continue to be remunerated in terms of their contracts," the statement said. "We are committed to getting to the bottom of this serious issue. Maleka has been asked to make findings and recommendations by Monday June 11 2018."
This is quite a reversal for SuperSport after a crisis meeting on Monday when CEO Gideon Khobane painted a picture of a discussion that had gone well, and even indicated the trio would be back on air this weekend. "We are positive this was not a racially motivated issue because all parties were very courteous during our discussions that started this morning‚" Khobane said on Monday.
Asked for further details on Friday as to why the situation appears to have regressed over the week‚ a SuperSport spokesperson said: "No comment."