​UP’s centre of athletic excellence and M&G make sport of SA’s Olympic committee

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Luke Alfred’s “The Games are four years away but political agendas and funding stymy SA’s potential” is a meld of fiction and fantasy where the views of Toby Sutcliffe — director of the High Performance Centre (HPC) at the University of Pretoria (UP) — are allowed to escape scrutiny. By failing to offer the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) an opportunity to respond to Sutcliffe’s opinions in the original article, we are left with the impression that Alfred is jumping on the bandwagon in the popular pursuit of Sascoc-bashing.

We welcome constructive criticism as long as it is based on fact, but we believe that Sutcliffe is guilty of only proving partial facts to construct a story that validates his privileged world view. We believe that the reality is much more complex and is deeply rooted in our past.

The inconvenient truths are much more interesting and will provide a clearer understanding of reality — a reality that is a far removed from Sutcliffe’s world.

According to Sutcliffe: “If it hadn’t been for Afrikaans universities, I really don’t know where our medals would have come from.”

Quite obviously, Sutcliffe does not do irony. It is unsurprising that he views sports development and excellence through a racial lens. Historically, white universities were the bastions of privilege and exclusion, and Afrikaner universities were the apex of such privilege.

Not much has changed. It was privilege borne out of a “white is right” mentality and anything of a lesser shade was inferior and not worthy of recognition.

This mentality is still pervasive on our sports fields and boardrooms where transformation elicits the worst kind of racist tropes and reignites the racist passions of apartheid past.

Incidentally, Sutcliffe should publically explain the racial composition of the HPC’s executive committee.

It is easy to pass callous and mean-spirited judgments on sporting federations while comfortably ensconced in the offices of the HPC. But that privilege is not afforded to our federations, who have to compete for limited funding and resources. Sutcliffe’s blanket condemnation of federations as “dysfunctional” is clearly an opinion forged without a semblance of truth.

Can Sutcliffe name all these federations? Under the umbrella of Sascoc, there are many federations and administrators who are doing excellent work — even with the limited resources available to them.

That they might not meet Sutcliffe’s exalted standards is not because of lack of trying but because they have to deal, on a daily basis, with redressing decades of historical inequities at grass-roots level. By its nature, the HPC is a privileged institution, ably serviced by Sutcliffe and his all-white executive committee.

It is important to clarify what support Sascoc affords to our athletes. It is not a “moot point” as Alfred seems to believe. If he had contacted us we would have educated him about that effort.

In the 2009-2012 quadrennial, Sascoc, through its Operation Excellence programme, supported 58 athletes for Olympic Games preparation and 42 athletes for Paralympic Games preparation. It was evident from the Games that it is critical for this support to continue, ensuring that athletes are able to plan for the next quadrennial (2013-2016). Post-London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, 74 athletes, of which 40 were Olympians and 34 were Paralympians, were supported through the programme.

So despite Sutcliffe’s believe that the HPC has a unique seven-year talent identification programme, Sascoc has been targeting, nurturing and supporting sportsmen and women over a seven-year period and beyond so that they become serious medal contenders at all major sporting events.

Although it is true that the HPC offers a base where athletes can prepare, Sascoc has, since the last quadrennial (2013-2016), spent about R118-million on supporting our athletes. This includes paying for their accommodation, meals, equipment, their coaches and trainers and medical aid. Compared to other countries, we believe this amount needs to increase dramatically, so that we are able to provide even more to our athletes.

Sutcliffe claims Luvo Manyonga, Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk as evidence of his success. And so the obvious question is: Why were there not more medalwinning athletes produced from the HPC or any other “Afrikaans universities”?

We are emerging from a past where neglect and exclusion, at every human level, was a firmly entrenched policy.

Apartheid ravaged our people and to address these immediate realities, present government spending has different priorities. We are in agreement that corporate South Africa needs to be filling this financial vacuum. We need a multipronged approach to examine the needs of our sportsmen and women.

Our existing model has produced success at Rio and further involvement from other sectors will no doubt bring a greater haul of medals. Sascoc will do whatever is necessary to drive this process, together with parties that are dedicated to athlete development. This process calls for honesty and acceptance of our iniquitous past so that there are no claims of unwarranted triumphalism and success. HPCs in the country have a necessary function to perform, so too do other individuals and organisations that work tirelessly to produce well-rounded athletes who can perform on the world stage.

Tubby Reddy is the chief executive of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee.

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