SA Games athletes 'performed miracles'

South Africa needs to ask itself whether it is investing sufficiently in the country’s athletes. This is the question posed by South African Sports Commission and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) President Moss Mashishi when a large contingent of the SA Commonwealth Games team arrived back from Melbourne on Sunday evening.

The athletes returned with 38 medals in total—including 12 golds—and finished in fifth position on the medals table. This is the best performance to date by a South African team and eclipses the sixth-place finish at the 2002 games in Manchester.

“Other countries such as Australia and England put millions into their sportsmen and women, so when you consider the disparity of investment, our athletes have performed miracles,” said Mashishi.

Chef de Mission Gideon Sam did not hold back when giving his assessment of the financial constraints on SA athletes.
“We were given promises after Manchester that banks would be broken into in order to find sufficient funding for our athletes.

“Obviously their security is very good because the banks still have their money, and the athletes have nothing,” said Sam.

He pointed out the financial sacrifices many of the athletes had to make in order to represent the country in Melbourne.

“Babalwa Ndleneni, who won a bronze medal for weightlifting, now returns to the care centre where she works having forfeited three weeks pay. She had to take unpaid leave to come to Melbourne.

“Women’s discus gold medallist Elizna Naude is a teacher who also had to forgo income while swimmer Roland Schoeman has to travel all over the world to compete.”

Sam added that South Africans spoke about sport as “social cohesion” but that it was time to stop paying lip service to slogans.

“These slogans need to be turned into action. We have completed half a cycle that ends at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. In order to succeed there, these athletes will have to triple up on their Commonwealth Games performances.

“Preparations for Beijing need to start tomorrow and not next week.”

He pointed to four areas that needed urgent attention. “Firstly, we need to consider rewarding athletes for the efforts they put in. Secondly, we have to review the Act that governs the Lotto and how the money is distributed in sport. We do have resources in this country, but much of it is just misplaced.

“Thirdly, if the problem is with bumbling administrators in our the sporting bodies, then Sascoc needs to crack the whip.”

Finally, said Sam, a number of international athletes come out to South Africa to train at local high performance centres. “We need to look at these facilities and make those resources available to local sportsmen.”

Mashishi said the situation was critical and added that he had been in talks with the government in order to deal with the concerns. “In this regard I would like to thank the team for doing so well in Melbourne. It makes the case so much easier to present,” said Mashishi.

Geraldine Pillay, winner of a silver medal in the women’s 100m and bronze in the 200m, had a word for prospective Olympic Games sponsors. “Get on board now, it’s only going to get bigger and better.” - Sapa

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