Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
2 minute read
1 Feb 2014
12:30 pm

Athletes clearly don’t come first in SA

Wesley Botton

"The athletes must always come first." We hear this statement all the time. It's as clichéd in South African sport as dull, ubiquitous post-match comments from coaches.

Wesley Botton.

The ongoing spat between Athletics South Africa and Sascoc, however, shows that sports administrators are often more concerned about power, political allegiances and bank balances than what’s happening on the field of play.

Elroy Gelant will start South Africa’s international campaign today when he attempts to qualify for the World indoor championships at a meeting in Mandeville, France.

If the chaos behind the scenes back home is not addressed, though, the danger seems very real that Gelant and the rest of his countrymen aiming to compete at the Worlds will be left high and dry.

Sascoc lifted its suspension of ASA this week, but by taking a firm stance in support of the federation’s interim board, there is even more confusion around the future of athletics in this country.

James Evans is still the internationally recognised leader of the sport, and it seems only he and his depleted executive can enter teams for international events.

Sascoc may support the interim committee, but the IAAF does not, and as things stand they will not be allowed to send a team to the indoor Worlds or the World Half-Marathon Championships, which are both next month.

Local administrators seem unable to solve the ongoing tit-for-tat conflict between Evans and the interim board, who both claim they hold power, and who both make solid points in their own defence.

By this point, just about every senior administrator in the sport has been suspended by somebody, and the argument, as confusing as it is, is starting to sound like a playground fight. “You can’t tag me because I tagged you first! Take that back or I’m telling the teacher!”

Meanwhile, the qualifying criteria for international events remains unclear, and two separate teams are likely to be selected for each of them, including this month’s Southern Region cross country championships, which will be hosted by South Africa.

The IAAF will not accept a team selected by the interim board, but Sascoc will not sanction a team selected by Evans – where does that leave the athletes?

Who should Gelant believe is making the decision, and if he’s left out of one team and included in the other, does he keep training for the global championships or switch his focus to the outdoor campaign?

And who is going to inform a young athlete, after naming them in one of the teams, that they have since been removed because administrators can’t seem to get their ducks in a row.

The IAAF needs to arrive soon, put its foot down and offer a way forward. Perhaps when Cheikh Thiare does eventually get here, he’ll address the problem at hand, and prove that athletes are given priority by putting them first.

At the moment, it’s clearly not all about the athletes, and someone needs to change that.