Athletics South Africa has released controversial final qualifying criteria for the Rio Olympics, six months before the Games, which threatens to preclude some of the nation’s top athletes from being considered for selection.
The athletics body signed a qualifying policy with the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) in July last year, but ASA later proposed revised criteria which was circulated among members ahead of an athletes’ meeting held in Kempton Park last month.
Proposed ‘A’ qualifying standards, which were far more stringent than the required standards released by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), were dropped from the draft policy before the meeting.
Other clauses remained intact, however, creating confusion about what was required from athletes to book their places in the team.
The federation said it would approach Sascoc to clarify certain requirements in its own policy, which did not appear in the initial agreement with the Olympic body.
But various controversial requirements had not been removed when ASA released the final list of criteria to its members this week.
The Sascoc agreement signed last year required all athletes to have competed at the SA Championships in 2014 or 2015 to be considered for selection, though it did not specify they had to participate in the same event they hoped to contest at the Games.
This left the door open for marathon runners, who compete in their specialist event only a few times a year, to tick the box by turning out in shorter distance national road or track races, in order to focus on more lucrative and prestigious 42km races overseas.
In the latest ASA criteria, however, the federation required marathoners to have run the SA 42km Championships in 2014 or 2015, or they would be forced to turn out at next week’s national championships in East London to have any chance of going to the Games.
This meant the likes of Lusapho April, Irvette van Zyl, Mapaseka Makhanya, and sisters Rene and Christine Kalmer, among others, had to turn out in East London next week, with just eight days’ notice to prepare for a 42km race.
The new qualifying criteria also affected track and field athletes, particularly those based in other countries.
“Depending on invitations, participation at least two of the scheduled ASA Nite Series meetings will be a prerequisite for selection,” ASA stated in its policy.
The federation confirmed this week, however, that dates and venues had not been set for the domestic series, while athletes had already started finalising their early-season schedules.
Some athletes, such as US-based sprinter Anaso Jobodwana and 400m hurdler Cornel Fredericks, stationed in England, could be required to make late changes to their plans and travel home three times in March and April, with participation at the SA Senior Championships also listed as a prerequisite for selection.
While ASA said its final qualifying policy had been released in agreement with Sascoc, and the criteria would be enforced ahead of the Games, the document was not signed by the Olympic body.
All selections must be approved by Sascoc before the final SA team for the Games is announced in July.