Everything stood still for a few moments in time on the set of SuperSport as Ashwin Willemse confronted his colleagues in a seemingly hostile manner and proceeded to walk off set. During the broadcast on Saturday, Willemse says he felt patronised by his white colleagues Nick Mallet and Naas Botha. He voiced his feelings around being regarded as a quota player regardless of the fact that he has been a dedicated player and had many achievements in his career. Before walking off, Willemse said: ‘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 [Mallett and Botha] who played their rugby during the apartheid era, a segregated era.’
Many sources have said that Willemse and Mallet have had a tenuous relationship for many years. Afrikaans newspaper, Rapport, revealed more on the matters that transpired before the incident on Sunday.
A source with knowledge of what occurred in the studio told the weekly newspaper that Mallett, while off-air, had asked the television producer to give Willemse an opportunity to speak first following the Lions’ 42-24 win over the Brumbies in Johannesburg. Mallett requested this as Willemse did not get a chance to speak following the earlier match between the Sharks and Chiefs in Durban. Willemse reportedly saw this as patronising causing the build-up to the on-air tension. Many sources close to the two commentators have provided insights into their relationship with one source saying: "Everyone talks about Botha and Mallett who make derogatory remarks about black and coloured players. They say just what they want and get away with it. Just think about it... now you’re standing there like Ashwin... I just think he got fed-up." While others comment on their working relationship saying: “It was virtually impossible to work with Ashwin in the last while. Often he would not even pitch up for work commitments and functions. He would confirm for a match only to pull out 10 minutes beforehand. He and Nick hardly talked to each other. Nick is, however, no saint. But I do feel sorry for Naas because I don’t think he has anything to do with it,” the source said.
Another source also emphasised that there was a lot of tension between Willemse and Mallett. “They were very hostile towards each other. Ashwin has never done much preparation. Nick and Naas would do the hard work when it comes to preparation. They would identify and edit video clips which Ashwin would then discuss on the touchscreen. He (Willemse) then gets all the credit.”
“We were as surprised and concerned as the rest of the rugby community by Saturday evening’s incident on SuperSport,” an SA Rugby spokesperson said. “It would not be fair to make snap judgements. However, something was clearly amiss and it reflected poorly on rugby. This is a SuperSport matter and we have asked to be kept informed on the process of the investigation.”
The CEO of MultiChoice, Calvo Mawela has released a statement saying that the company would be taking appropriate action regarding the incident once the investigation has been concluded and said: "SuperSport has taken note of the strong public sentiment and we take this matter seriously. Whatever the findings, appropriate action will be taken to remedy the situation. Prejudice of any sort will not be tolerated by SuperSport."
South African Minister of Sport, Thokozile Xasa has publically called for Mallett and Botha to be suspended.
Clinton van der Berg, SuperSport’s spokesperson, told Netwerk24 that they held “preliminary talks” with Willemse on Sunday and plan to hold talks with Mallett and Botha on Monday regarding the incident. SuperSport on Monday said they would proceed with meeting with all parties involved.
"A preliminary investigation is underway and will include senior management meeting with all the presenters (Ashwin Willemse, Nick Mallett, Naas Botha and Motshidisi Mohono) and the production staff in Johannesburg today," SuperSport said via an e-mailed statement. "Prejudice of any sort will not be tolerated by SuperSport. SuperSport will keep the public and media informed of the investigation."