Stars inspire a nation
10 August 2012 | HEINZ SCHENK
JOHANNESBURG - In fact, the delegation that accompanied them was at pains to point out that the whole effort was the duo’s moment to bask in a fervent homecoming – understandably so. And yet it was intriguing how developmental talk kept popping up.
“Chad and I really want to take swimming forward in this country,” admitted Van der Burgh, who imperiously romped to gold in the 100m breaststroke in a world record time.
“Statistically, we only have about between 5 000 and 6 000 registered swimmers in the country. Countries like Australia and America have up to 25 and 50 times more swimmers. Taking that into account we were about fourth on the medals table, that’s amazing. We’ve got some great talent in the pipeline, we just need to refine it.”
Simple as it may sound, the first hurdle is invariably top-of-mind awareness – the only time swimming in South Africa really garners any kind of attention is when the stakes are at their highest, like an Olympics or a world championship.
Le Clos hoped that their feats would encourage the sport’s more consistent intrusion into South Africa’s sporting psyche, adding that some of that obligation pertains directly to them.
“We’re going to have targets on our back from now on and with that comes more responsibility. Even though we are on a break now, we’re excited to get back in the water and train harder now that we’re on top and want to keep ourselves there,” he remarked. In fact, Swimming SA chairman Jace Naidoo was adamant that this golden opportunity to grow the talent base simply couldn’t be missed, especially since it can be argued that the sport isn’t as impoverished – at least not in monetary terms – as generally perceived.
“On the swimming medal rankings, 205 countries took part and we finished top five and below us were teams like Australia and Russia,” he noted.
“I really don’t think we can call ourselves a small sport anymore. We can lay claim to being one of the top swimming nations in the world despite our smaller base.”
Even if basic level branding received a boost from this excursion, the biggest hurdle remains funding.
“We want to plead with the corporate and public sector to invest in swimming. We can make South Africa even more proud than we already have. Far more can be done with the right level of support,” said Naidoo.
Tellingly, there seems to be political will from government to provide support with Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula citing the department’s integrated sports plan towards investing R1-billion into the country’s various codes.
Whether implementation takes place is a moot point but Mbalula, pragmatically, also realises that in a milieu where budget crunches are the norm, prioritisation is an unfortunate consideration.
“I think it’s important for us to realise that we need to plough money where we know we can get medals,” he said.
“Swimming has always delivered and we can’t afford the sport to fall behind in terms of financial assistance. They’ve shown what they can do with a limited budget, just imagine the results if there’s proper funding.”
Those words are music to the ears of Swimming SA coach Graham Hill, the archetypal understated coach of little words and big deeds.
“The future has only begun. We have two young guys that are going to be well and truly prepared for Rio in 2016 and a lot of up and coming candidates that will make it in four years’ time. All looks good.”
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