Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
3 minute read
25 Jan 2014
2:00 pm

Father of Olympics would not be impressed

Wesley Botton

Five years ago, after a dismal performance at the Beijing Olympics, Sascoc's leadership put their foot down and informed athletes there would be no more free rides.

Wesley Botton.

They have stuck to their guns ever since, refusing to budge on their strict criteria for major international multi-sport events, and despite public uproar on numerous occasions, their decisions have made sense. Until now.

Their refusal to send Sive Speelman to the Winter Games is not only senseless, it goes against everything for which the Olympic movement stands.

Ahead of the 2012 Summer Games in London, Sascoc took a beating when sprint star Simon Magakwe, cyclist Cherise Stander and weightlifter Greg Shushu were omitted from the team.

Despite qualifying six times domestically, however, in the men’s 100m event, Magakwe did not achieve the standard in international competition, according to the stipulated criteria.

Stander, meanwhile, did not fall into Cycling South Africa’s plans of sending a well rounded team, despite being ranked higher than two of the women who were selected.

Shushu was left behind while a younger, less accomplished, athlete was selected because he was not considered to be a potential candidate for Rio 2016, in line with criteria for selection through the continental door.

On the other side of the coin, Sascoc included paraplegic sprinter Oscar Pistorius in the individual 400m sprint, despite his failue to meet the criteria.

The decision nonetheless made sense, as Pistorius was already attending the Games as part of the 4x400m relay team, and he was eligible to compete in the individual race after achieving the B standard.

Perhaps the most controversial move was the omission of equestrian Alex Peternell.

But while Peternell won his case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and had the decision overturned, Sascoc were somewhat justified in their decision, as Peternall had lived in the United Kingdom for 11 years and they opted to give Paul Hart, based in South Africa, an opportunity.

The decision may have been unfair, or even petty, but at least Sascoc had a reason, choosing patriotism over quality in a sport in which South Africa had no chance of securing a medal.

When people are left behind due to strict criteria, with more than 120 athletes qualifying for an event, it is understandable, but when only one berth is given to the country and the opportunity to be represented at a major global event is turned down, it is nothing short of bizarre.

Speelman is not a medal contender, and he failed to meet the A standard in the alpine skiing discipline, but that’s not the point.

The controversy around his omission should not revolve around Speelman the individual because the move is far more significant than the shattered dreams of one man.

The International Olympic Committee will not look kindly on a nation that snubs one of its most prestigious events.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympic movement on certain ideals, which promoted the values of participation ahead of excellence.

Next month’s Games will be the first since readmisission that will not have a single South African representative, despite the IOC allowing every country to take part by creating a B standard cushion.

Around 90 countries will compete in Sochi, including four African nations, but South Africa’s flag has been discarded before the opening ceremony. De Coubertin would not be impressed.