Rebuilding the image of a sport battered by almost 11 months of bad publicity is a priority of the newly elected Athletics South Africa (ASA) board.
Former South Africa sprint champion Geraldine Pillay, who was elected to the nine-member board, revealed the challenges and goals of the new administration this week.
“Restoring the broken trust of athletes and sponsors tops our priorities. It is important for our athletes to believe that there is a board that can bring back sanity to the sport. Equally, sponsors must have confidence in Athletics South Africa as a brand,” she said.
Pillay, who chairs the athletes’ committee in the new board, intends to meet athletes in the provinces to gain an understanding of the changes they would like made in the sport. “Athletics has suffered for a long time and now lags behind other sports codes. We need to revive the sport and bring back the international stars that once came to run in South Africa, such as Michael Johnson, or even Usain Bolt”.
Pillay admitted that the damage caused by the Caster Semenya saga and sponsors pulling out would not be fixed overnight. “I hope that we will not be punished for the actions of the previous board,” she said.
James Evans, the new ASA board chairperson, expressed confidence in the expertise of the board to turn around the fortunes of the sport. “It is a diverse board, combining athletics knowledge with legal and commercial skill. The fact that the majority are recent or current athletes or coaches is a big positive.”
Seasoned athletics administrators such as Alex Skhosana, Evans, Motlatsi Keikabile and Blanche Moila have been involved in the sport for along a time. The other board members include athletes Hendrik Ramaala, Peter Lourens, William Fourie and Arnaud Malherbe.
“One of the biggest failings before was the lack of commercial knowledge. The ASA is not in a sound financial position because of poor decision-making. The current board has people who have these skills and will be willing to ask for help when needed,” said Evans.
But the new board was under no illusion about the enormous amount of work and public relations that lay ahead. “We need to get ASA back on a sound financial footing, develop a well-thought-out athletics programme and regain the confidence of the athletes and the public,” he said.
Evans said working without a president was no impediment. Disgraced athletics boss Leonard Chuene is suspended as ASA president pending a hearing into the Semenya saga.
The new board will hold its first meeting on the first weekend of October.