ASA: athletes to suffer

2013-06-24 00:00

THE calamity that is South African athletics took a turn for the worse yesterday with the news that top athletes will possibly no longer be representing their country at major meets such as the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics.

This surfaced after the sport’s governing body (ASA) was suspended by the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had confirmed its support for an elected ASA board — headed by embattled president James Evans — that was suspended by Sascoc in April.

But Sascoc yesterday took matters into their own hands.

“The membership of ASA, as a national federation, under the regulation of Sascoc, is suspended with immediate effect,” Sascoc president Gideon Sam said yesterday.

“At this juncture, Sascoc has decided that athletes of ASA will not be included in future Team SA squads for the Commonwealth Youth Games, Commonwealth Games, Anoca Youth Games, Zone VI Games, All Africa Games, Olympic Youth Games and the Olympic Games.”

The country’s top athletes are set to have their preparations for the Rio Olympics in 2016 severely hampered, and their participation in the showpiece at all is now questionable.

The financial backing supplied to SA’s five “tier one” athletes by Sascoc’s Operation Excellence (Opex) programme has been removed.

2012 Olympian marathon runner Tanith Maxwell from Durban said she was very disappointed by the latest developments caused by in-fighting.

“In the end, it’s the athletes who really suffer. I qualified for the World Champs in Moscow this year through my performance at the Olympics and I’m at the height of my training,” she told The Witness.

“I’m not sure where to from now. I’m at a loss as to what will happen. It’s like a bomb that’s been dropped, with promises of financial support.”

Star hurdler L.J. van Zyl also voiced his grievances.

“South Africa’s athletics will now bleed even more than it is already bleeding,” he said.

Despite Maxwell’s concerns, ASA president Evans told The Witness yesterday that they would still send athletes to the Moscow World Champs (August 10 to August 18) as the competition had nothing to do with Sascoc and the IAAF would cover the travel costs of all participants.

Evans said a decision had been taken at an ASA meeting on Saturday that “athletics needed to fix athletics’ problems” and that Sascoc’s decision should be viewed in a positive light.

“This can only be good for us, because it means there is no more interference,” Evans said.

“The next IOC event is not until next year, so we have a year to sort out our problems.”

Evans termed the entire debacle as embarrassing for South Africa, and he hoped to see political leaders come in and take the lead.

“It’s time the minister of Sport intervened. If not, the president should force him to get involved,” said Evans.

But Paena Galane, national spokesperson for the Department of Sport, refused to comment on the matter, saying they would only do so once they had received a report from Sascoc.

KZN Athletics president Sello Mokoena told The Witness that problems at ASA started last year when the organisation ran out of money and was not able to pay athletes.

That led to a division in the board, with one half supporting vice president Hendrick Ramaala and the other supporting Evans.

“We decided, as KZN Athletics, not to support any of the factions,” he said.

Last year, Ramaala successfully called a meeting to oust Evans and, on Saturday, Evans called one against Ramaala in which a decision was taken not to recognise Sascoc as a body.

“Sascoc then took a decision to suspend ASA,” said Mokoena.

Evans yesterday did not deny that there had been tension between himself and Ramaala, but said there was no reason why their relationship could not be patched up, adding that the strain was influenced by Sascoc’s constant interference.

“It’s a fair call to say that there are factions. But athletics people have to sort this out without interference from Sascoc,” said Evans, adding that he received no formal notification of the suspension from Sascoc and learnt about it through media reports.

Ramaala refused to comment on the record.

Mokoena suggested that ASA was already in a state of disarray before the IAAF and Sascoc had become involved. “It was going nowhere fast. It’s still going nowhere fast.”

Mokoena said what was needed was for the entire ASA board to be investigated and for those who were responsible for maladministration to be removed.

“In the meantime, we’re saying elect a new board to take athletics forward, because the current board has failed.” He said he was due to meet with the provincial Sascoc board to discuss the way forward.

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