Athletics South Africa is experiencing a serious financial crisis and failed to brief the council on the federation’s financial status last week, the Mail & Guardian has been Âreliably told.
It has also emerged that controversial ASA president Leonard Chuene has allegedly been drawing a salary of R35?000 a month. Board members and the president are elected to their positions and should therefore not earn a salary.
They are reimbursed only when they submit receipts for expenses incurred on ASA duty.
To compound their problems ASA on Wednesday had to apologise to the ANC Youth League who were upset that Chuene had misled them. The league’s president Julius Malema had all along defended Chuene, saying he was being attacked by white critics.
A senior athletics boss who spoke to the M&G on condition of anonymity said: ‘Chuene is an employer and an employee and that cannot be Âpossible. The federation is in a financial crisis, which is why they can’t produce audited financial statements.
‘They have a cash flow problem. Yet Chuene illegally draws a salary and [he] travelled with his personal assistant, Humile Bogatsu, to Berlin. She went as assistant manager to Team South Africa.
‘People are focusing on the Caster Semenya saga when the core issue is financial mismanagement by ASA and its president. When you earn a salary you will be under pressure to deliver and that’s happening with Chuene. He has to deliver at all costs. On top of the salary he gets benefits. He earns a salary that he cannot account for,â€ said the official.
ASA responded to the allegations. ‘ASA is not in a financial crisis. ASA is a non-profit organisation and any surplus funds arising shall be used for the benefit of athletics in South Africa. Chuene is not earning a salary. He is receiving an allowance in line with the general corporate governance principles. This is a normal practice in companies and other sport formations.â€
Nedbank, once one of ASA’s biggest sponsors, has withdrawn from its R17-million-a-year deal with the association for the 2010 season. The sponsorship covered the Nedbank City Marathon and Matha Series in Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Mpumalanga.
ASA general manager Molatelo Malehopo has written to host provinces requesting a R2-million grant from each province to prevent the events from being cancelled.
Donald Lee of the Democratic Alliance said ASA had always had financial problems.
‘It is public knowledge that I had a public spat with Chuene when I challenged him on the financial mismanagement issue. I was called a coconut. This man and the federation should be investigated.â€
Athletics South Africa’s council on Thursday voiced confidence in Chuene.
”The meeting unanimously expressed confidence in the current ASA leadership,” spokesperson Chris Britz told reporters.
”It also resolved that ASA will participate and fully cooperate in any statutory commission of inquiry that be instituted on this matter”.
The financial crisis reports follow hot on the heels of Chuene’s admission, at a press conference last week, that he lied to the nation about not knowing that gender tests were conducted locally on Semenya ahead of the world championships in Berlin last month.
The M&G carried a report last week exposing Chuene’s trail of lies, which forced him to confess.
Chuene said in a statement: ‘Despite knowledge of these tests I continued to deny their existence. This was not done with malice and my intention was never to deceive the South African public.
‘I felt that, at the time, I was acting in the best interests of Caster Semenya as a person. I believed at the time that my consistent denials would help protect her.
‘I have, however, realised that it was an error of judgement and that I could have been more forthÂcoming with this information. Athletics South Africa, led by myself as president of the federation, apologises unconditionally.â€
Lying to protect Semenya
A day after admitting that he lied, Chuene called an urgent ASA board meeting, which he chaired. The M&G understands that the board fully supported him ‘because he lied to protect Semenyaâ€.
The ASA boss’s actions have provoked a national call for him to step down. Among those who want him gone is Gert Oosthuizen, the deputy sport and recreation minister. The ANC issued a statement saying the party is ‘disgusted and appalledâ€ by the way Semenya was treated.
But Chuene refuses to go.
An ASA council member said: ‘This man is politically well connected and who am I to stand up against him or against more than 24 people who want him to remain in power?
‘He has grown to be bigger than ASA, which is why he controls everything. It is highly unlikely that the council will ask him to step down. People are scared to speak against him because of his connections. I am also scared,â€ he said.
People who spoke to the M&G refused to be quoted, fearing that they would be victimised if Chuene survives the calls for him to resign.
‘Why is the ASA board not getting rid of this guy? Are we saying that Chuene is the best thing that has ever happened to ASA? No ways. There are people within the organisation who can run the sport better than he does. The guy has admitted publicly, but why are we still debating whether he should go or not?â€ said an official close to Chuene.
‘This is bound to happen when you are in power for such a long period. He runs the organisation and can always calm the waters whenever necessary.
‘Butana Komphela [the National Assembly’s sports committee chairperson] has been loud on other sporting matters but has been quiet on this one. The postponement for Chuene to appear before Parliament is not coincidental; people wanted the storm to calm and take it from there,â€ said the official.
Lee said Chuene had brought the ASA board into disrepute. ‘Someone is protecting Chuene. He should not be part of the board that is Âinvestigating him. ASA’s responsibility is to get rid of this man who embarrassed our country. What will happen to athletes should the IAAF suspend our membership because of this man’s action? We really don’t need people like him.â€
This is not the first time Chuene has been asked to resign. Last year he was under pressure to go following media reports that he was having an affair with his personal assistant, Bogatsu, and that he had increased her salary from R5?000 to R15Â 000.
Bogatsu was in Berlin as assistant team manager while communications manager Ethel Manyaka and Semenya’s coach, Michael Seme, were left behind.
It is believed that Boland Athletics, led by its president and South Africa’s team doctor in Berlin, Harold Adams, ASA board member Godfrey Hammers and former ASA coach Wilfred Daniels will be gunning for Chuene. But the chances are they will not succeed.