SA athletics hits the wall running, again

Many were hopeful that last weekend's appointment of an Athletics South Africa interim board would herald a fresh start for the administration of the sport in this country.

Yet the fate of South African athletes seems once again to have been thrown into uncertainty, with no word from either the department of sport and recreation or the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) on whether they recognise the new board, and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) confirming that it did not.

According to the president of KwaZulu-Natal Athletics, Sello Mokoena, who is the director of the interim structure, the process to remove the ASA board started on Friday at a special general meeting (SGM) in Johannesburg.

"Eleven provinces had initially come together and agreed to consider a motion of no confidence in the ASA board. However, such a motion can only be considered at an SGM," he said.

Fifteen provinces, including KZN Athletics, Western Province Athletics, Boland Athletics and Central Gauteng Athletics, and two associates, the South African Schools Athletics Committee and University Sports South Africa, voted in favour of the motion at the meeting, making it a unanimous decision.

The motion was presented at the ASA annual general meeting (AGM) the following day, at which ASA president James Evans (who was not present) was ousted and the seven-member interim board – comprising Mokoena, Tebogo Masehla, Harold Adams, Aleck Skhosana, Jakes Jacobs, Daan du Toit and Steven Khanyile – was appointed to run ASA for a six-month period, after which a meeting will be held to elect a new board.

But in a statement circulated to members of the media shortly afterwards, Evans said that Saturday's AGM was "unconstitutional and invalid" and that "any decision taken at it is likewise invalid".

He said: "Even if the meeting had been valid, no interim committee who appointed themselves there can be recognised. The IAAF constitution is clear. Clause 4.2: 'In the event of a conflict that brings the activities of a member to a standstill, an ad-hoc committee may be set up, for a defined period, to be in charge of the management of athletics in the country or territory concerned and/or the preparation of a general assembly to be conducted in accordance with the member's constitution, provided always that such an ad-hoc committee has been approved by the IAAF in advance.' No prior approval was given by the IAAF to form such an ad-hoc committee."

Evans later told the Mail & Guardian that he had since decided not to "create confrontation" but to let time take its course.

"The IAAF has communicated to us that they recognise us and not the interim committee," he said. "Sascoc won't intervene until the IAAF says it can, nor can the government recognise the committee.

"This means that they have started a rival federation and are acting fraudulently. When they realise this, they'll have to get out of the ASA offices."

But Mokoena said the IAAF had been informed that the motion was going to be tabled. "Letters have also since been sent out to the IAAF, the department of sport and recreation and Sascoc to inform them about the current status. We expect them to respond positively; we will be very surprised if they respond negatively."

But IAAF spokesperson Nick Davies confirmed a report published in the Citizen on Wednesday, which said that the international body does not recognise the interim committee.

"The IAAF constitution is very clear. We recognise only legally elected representatives and not interim boards or other entities. That is a consistent position that will not change. The constitution of ASA, recognised by IAAF, will have a process for elections and it is the issue of said elections which will be recognised by IAAF and this is the same for all the 212 IAAF member federations," he told the M&G.

But Mokoena is sceptical. "It would be a strange way for the IAAF to communicate with its members via the Citizen and the media and not with us directly," he said.

The Sascoc communications officer, Jessica Choga, said that Sascoc cannot comment because it has not received any correspondence from ASA about the matter, and Paena Galane, the spokesperson for Minister of Sports and Recreation Fikile Mbalula, said the minister has not yet released a statement on the matter.

The M&G was contacted by two individuals who expressed concern about the inclusion in the interim committee of Boland Athletics president Adams and the former KZN Athletics president, Skhosana.

Adams was one of the pivotal players in the Caster Semenya saga that played out during former ASA boss Leonard Chuene's tenure, and KZN Athletics was declared bankrupt under Skhosana. The latter was also at the centre of fraud, corruption and mismanagement allegations, which crippled athletics in the province.

"How can ASA start afresh if people like this are part of the interim board?" asked a national athletics coach who did not want to be named.

Both Adams and Skhosana declined to comment. Mokoena said that neither of them have been convicted by a court of law.

"If there are allegations of misdemeanours against an individual and he has not been convicted by a court, then he has a right to be nominated for a position. Nominations took place and they were elected by the council members," he said.

"I personally have confidence in all six members because each person in life has weaknesses and strengths. It's important to augment those weaknesses and explore the strengths. I am willing to work with anyone given to me democratically."

Mokoena said the main priority of the interim committee is athletes and coaches.

"We would like athletes and coaches to know that we are there to work on the administrative side of things – they can concentrate on their training for national and international events, knowing that they can leave the rest to us."

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