As much as the communication gaps in South African athletics structures may be evident at home, local officials must cast their gaze over the Atlantic Ocean if they really want to know how much damage is being caused.
Athletics SA held a rare athletes’ workshop in Kempton Park last week, apparently making the first real step in an attempt to open doors of communication.
Often left in the dark, with the relaying of information down ASA’s membership chain getting lost along the way, athletes regularly struggle to access qualifying criteria for championship events and various national teams in recent years have been selected at the last minute.
The federation’s president, Aleck Skhosana, says the governing body intends to make more of an effort to engage regularly with athletes and coaches. Some squad announcements being made in advance, with teams refined at performance trials, has no doubt made a difference, and Skhosana and his board hope last week’s workshop will prove they are trying.
Bizarre proposals to make late changes to Olympic qualifying criteria, apparently abandoned less than eight months before the Games, give a clear indication they have a long way to go.
For the full effect of what happens when links in the communication chain are broken, however, we can look to the unnecessary frustration placed on one of the nation’s most promising distance runners.
Dominique Scott has the potential to become a real contender on the global track and road circuits, and many believe she is the long-awaited heir-apparent to the former world-class trio of Zola Budd, Elana Meyer and Colleen de Reuck.
Last year, the 23-year-old clocked 15:32.55 over 5 000m, climbing to fifth place in the all-time SA rankings. She also became the third SA woman to dip under 33 minutes over the 10 000m distance on the track, with only Meyer and De Reuck having run faster than her 32:11.60 personal best.
“I would absolutely love to run in the 2016 Olympics, but I have not heard anything from South Africa,” the University of Arkansas student said this week.
“I have reached out to ASA, but I have not heard anything back. I’m hoping to hear back from them soon in regards to what they are expecting of me.”
Seven months before the Olympic Games, an athlete with future medal potential who could benefit greatly from the experience in Rio, doesn’t know what she needs to do to make the national team.
Regardless of where the fault lies in ASA’s communication channels, this is unacceptable. And in the case of Scott, the federation is playing with fire because unlike most athletes, she has a choice.
In December last year, Scott married American Cameron Efurd, and her US citizenship will allow her the option of turning out for her adopted country in future.
While she waits to receive a shred of evidence her national federation even knows she exists, in the back of Scott’s mind she knows she can pick up another flag with the assurance she will have the support she needs to take her career to the next level.
According to reports, US-based World Championships 200m bronze medallist Anaso Jobodwana was named in the SA team for next month’s World Indoor Championships despite informing ASA he would not be available.
If this doesn’t prove a breakdown in communication, nothing will, but Jobodwana’s biggest problem is that he has no choice… well, not yet anyway. Scott can jump ship if she wants, and I wouldn’t blame her.
If ASA wants to see a rainbow-coloured flag wrapped around her shoulders, and not the Stars and Stripes, they’d better pick up the phone.
And they’d better do it fast.