The SABC is to sue the Premier Soccer League (PSL) for breach of
contract after the PSL decided to sell broadcasting rights to rival Media24's pay-tv channel Supersport
International, writes Bate Felix.

SABC news reported that CEO Dali Mpofu said a contract signed by the two  parties states that the SABC should be given “a pre-emptive right to broadcast, a standard practice in broadcasting”.

The SABC has held the rights to the lucrative soccer league since 2002. The contract came up for renewal but the broadcaster and the PSL could not reach agreement.

Last week, the PSL announced that it had gone ahead and awarded the rights to Supersport, in a deal reported to be worth R1 billion over five years, despite an arbitration process still underway with the SABC.

Awarding the contract to the Supersport International has caused uproar across the country with many criticising the deal, fearing that most South Africans who cannot afford pay TV will not be able to watch soccer matches which were formerly broadcast on SABC’s free-to-air channels. 

Sports minister Makhenkesi Stofile said the deal could ruin the image of soccer. “Sport is a national asset which must be accessible to all our people and this must not be inhibited by financial constraints or the urban- rural divide,” he said.

The Freedom of Expression Institute questioned how the PSL could justify awarding this contract to a channel that is subscribed to by only nine percent of South Africans.

“This effectively privatises soccer so that its access will be mainly to the elite in our country,” the institute said in a statement.

The South African Communist Party has slammed the deal as “totally insensitive, if not outright provocative, to the millions of soccer-loving South Africans”.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions said it meant matches would be broadcast “to only a small elite of rich TV viewers, while depriving millions of the working class and the poor the opportunity to watch their favourite sport”.

But the PSL has dismissed these concerns. Ronald Schloss, the PSL chief operations officer, speaking to the media, has described the furore as  “a mountain manufactured out of a molehill”.

“The ill-founded assumption that viewing PSL games on TV will now be beyond the finances of the vast majority of South Africa's millions of soccer fans is simply way off-target,” said Schloss.

“Indeed, the exact opposite is the case, with the PSL's contract with Supersport stipulating that they must sell a minimum of 140 games to broadcasters operating on a free-to-air television basis”.

Schloss said the SABC had shown little more than 100 TV games live to the South African public last season. “So in effect, there will be a lot more free TV soccer viewing for the public than ever before,” he said.