RSA's Olympic fiasco

The Sowetan newspaper

SA Olympic failures

28 August 2008
Dumile Mateza

Sascoc should take blame for the fiasco

We are all appalled by the performance of Team South Africa at the Olympic Games in Beijing, and the blame should be laid squarely at the doorstep of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee and, to some extent, the Department of Sport and Recreation and some federations affiliated to Sascoc.

South Africa has been left behind in the Olympic sports arena. We must find out what needs to be done. One way would be to take a careful look at Sascoc, how it is run, and the lack of brains to take South African sport forward.

It is important to find a remedy for our poor performance in Beijing and look beyond London 2012. The questions should be what happened to people like Professor Tim Noakes and others who could help our athletes go forward. Who should we take to the Olympics in future? Is it wise to take every sport, even if we know that we might not get any medals in such a discipline?

Is it wise to take sports such as weightlifting, sailing, shooting, archery, fencing, diving and wrestling? Should we not ask these federations to first improve their standings internationally before taking them to the Olympics?

What do our preparations entail with regard to swimming, track and field, and hockey? Should we not change our approach to preparations, especially the election of the Sascoc executive?

Many of the small sporting federations such as weightlifting, fencing, archery, sailing, shooting and wrestling are used for vote buying by the Sascoc executive. They are in turn promised to be included in the Olympic team, and this should not be the case. In the lead up to the Olympics it was decided, whether rightly or wrongly, to discard the lower qualifying standards of the IAAF. It was decided to take only those track and field athletes who made the A-Standard qualifying time and distance.

However, this was shooting ourselves in the foot because we do not have enough athletes in the heats. Many countries have athletes in every heat and this gives them an advantage of having two or three athletes in the semifinals. These athletes then work together to win. With a conservative approach in selecting our athletes, we leave athletes to fend for themselves and do not give ourselves a chance of winning any medals.

In the 1970s there were many athletic meetings, some of them organised by clubs such as Coetzenburg, RAU, University of Pretoria, and Magnolia and the Normal Teachers College, also in Pretoria. These clubs were able to get sponsorship and hold athletic meetings.

These clubs would organise events, only to have a new world record set up with invited athletes from around the world. Remember the many performances by Johan Fourie, Victor Radebe and others, only to set a new mile standard. However, the new leadership in athletics saw these meets as too elite and did away with them.

The popular universities’ Dalrymple Cup was done away with and today the universities’ meeting is like a Sunday school picnic. No one pays attention.

We had a well-organised schools athletics programme sponsored by Sasol, but this was done away with and replaced by Ussasa, which was steeped in politics rather than sport. School sport was killed in this manner.

We need to support and monitor our athletes when they take part in international events, especially our swimming team in the US. We should also support a team of athletes for training camps in places like Eldoret in Kenya, or create a place in South Africa with similar facilities and altitude.

In the past, many elite European athletes chose Potchefstroom as their training camp. This too has died down. When British Dame Kelly Holmes won two gold medals at Athens in 2004, she had trained in Potchefstroom. At one stage she showed interest in training our athletes.

I remember former javelin world record holder Jan Zelezny throwing a world record in Polokwane. We saw it as elite and discouraged it. What happened to athletes such as the hammer thrower Chris Harmse, pole vaulters Okkert Brits and Elmarie Gerryts? Why are they not used to develop hammer throwers and pole vaulters?

Through John van Reenen we used to hold the world record in shot put and discus. What happened to him?

What happened to sprinter Geraldine Pillay who once trained with Asafa Powell in Jamaica?

Our boxing is not that poor that we cannot manage to send more than one boxer to the Olympics. Jackie Chauke was never going to win a medal in China. His performance at the All Africa Games in Algeria last year should have been an indication to the Sascoc selectors that he was not ready.

Yes, we cannot compete with the Australians, Americans, Chinese and the rest of the world when it comes to funding Olympic teams and their preparations. But we should not cut our noses off to spite our faces. The Sascoc executive should stop seeing themselves and their egos as more important than the sport.

Even if the government only gives little funding to Sascoc, what is there to show for that contribution? Taking 70 officials to the Olympics shows that our priorities are wrong.

In 2000, President Thabo Mbeki lamented the lack of funding from the Treasury and cited the Australian example, but local sport administrators did not follow up on what he was intimating.

Dumile Mateza is a sports analyst and commentator.

How did South African athletics go with Dr Ekkart Arbeit as their Head Coach?