New athletics board needs to mirror athletes’ sweat

2011-12-28 00:00

ATHLETICS in South Africa entered 2011 full of hope with a new board that has a sprinkling of past athletes who were expected to focus on athlete needs and move away from the administrative nest-feathering that had tainted the previous regime.

Sporting passion looked to be returning and the opening of the valuable Yellow Pages track series brought omens of a good season.

While Caster Semenya returned to competition, it was LJ van Zyl who rekindled the hopes of the sport with a remarkable 47,66 over the 400 m hurdles, breaking Llewellyn Herbert’s 11-year-old domestic record.

Weeks later he broke 45 seconds for the 400 m flat, which set the foundation for his bronze hurdle medal at the World Championships in Daegu, and the silver in the 4 x 400 m relay final.

Oscar Pistorius surged from zero to hero when out of the blue in an eleventh-hour selection he clocked 45,21 seconds to qualify for the World Championships.

He made it through to the 400 m second round and then kick-started the 4 x 400 m relay heats where the team ran a South African record time.

The final saw KZN’s Shane Victor take over the opening leg, while Van Zyl replaced Pistorius, who was the slowest in the heats.

Off the track Pistorius, assisted by his support team, wooed a media intrigued with the first double amputee to compete in both the Paralympics and world able-bodied track-and-field championships.

The Blade Runner twice took longer to make it through the post-race media huddles than Jamaican sprint sensation Usain Bolt, who failed to defend his 100 m title due to a false start in the final. Bolt recovered with total domination in the 200 m and a defining role in the 4 x 100 relay gold.

Although destroying the competition in the heats, Semenya side-stepped the media and controversy in the build-up to the final, where she was clearly pleased to secure the bronze medal.

Sunette Viljoen added a bronze medal to the overall haul, which gave South Africa its best championships since Paris in 2003.

Stephen Mokoka and René Kalmer dominated middle-distance, cross-country and road races, with Thubalethu Phaku and Tanith Maxwell the best of local distance athletes, with Jenna Challenor a ready understudy in Maxwell’s absence.

Stephen Muzhingi joined an exclusive elite with a third consecutive victory in Comrades and Bongmusa Mthembu headed the local marathon and ultra scene.

South Africa made its first appearance at the World Trail Championships and Kerry Koen’s Comrades gold saw her part of ASA’s return to the world 100 km championships.

Distance running ended on the most tragic of notes with the death of multiple springbok Zithulele Sinqe in a horrific car accident. Zet, as he is affectionately known, will be laid to rest on Saturday at his Transkei home.

ASA’s introduction of innovative incentives and new events no doubt contributed to the setting of nine records. SA’s junior team earned 34 medals, including 13 gold, at the Africa junior championships in Botswana, and the youth side returned with 50 medals from the Southern Regional Championships in Windhoek.

Faith in the new board weakened when an ASA media release implied the board — rather than the athletes’ years of foundation training — were responsible for the performances.

Then Hendrick Ramaala publicly declared that the ASA board was split, with its president, James Evans, and its office administrator, Ramaala, on different sides soon after the presidential elections.

The direction and desires of board members were again questioned when — despite glaring needs at home — board members were at the fore of a flurry of nominations to continental and international posts.

Could this be a flashback to the Chuene reign?

Mid-year a limited forensic audit exposed rampant fraud and corruption in KZN Athletics. Although the report has been sent to ASA and the president, there has been no action at national level where KZN president Aleck Skhosana and executive member Blanche Moila hold office as chair of road running and cross-country respectively.

Local clubs are left bewildered as to what is required to clear the sport of the cancer that has dragged athletics into the darkest years of provincial history.

In the year’s final months, Skhosana and his executive ignored calls supported by 136 clubs for a special general meeting looking for their resignation. This represents over 70% of the clubs that elected them and seems destined to reach court in the new year.

While Skhosana and Moila fly nationally and internationally at the expense of the sport, the remainder of the executive remain tight-lipped in complicit support of the mismanagement and corruption that have left the province bankrupt.

Skhosana has attempted to turn the issue into one of race in two selective interviews in Zulu-based media. Skhosana currently faces legal claims of R500 000 for alleged racist remarks and defamation made in these interviews.

His utterances totally ignore the fact that his head is being sought by clubs from as far afield as Newcastle, South Coast, Underberg and Empangeni and as culturally diverse as KwaMashu, Chesterville, Inanda, Verulam, Orient, Savages, Stella and Richards Bay.

Both Willie Mtolo and Sipho Mkhathini resigned, dissociating themselves from the behaviour and management of Skhosana’s executive, while the Athletes Commission has called for the immediate removal of all remaining executive.

Not surprisingly it takes grit to be positive about provincial athletics moving into 2012.

Administratively there is much to be done, but as every athlete knows it is the pain and challenge of the training that deliver the rewards of a race well run. The same will be true of ensuring KZN Athletics has an honourable and passionate administration with the interests of the sport at heart.

Those who have seen additional evidence to the initial audit related to fraud in events funded through the Sport and Recreation Department now expect more news of how far cancerous tentacles have wormed their way into associated structures in KZN athletics.

Links with publicly funded structures, such as the National Lotto, the Education Department and the Academy of Excellence, where Skhosana is general manager, can expect to come under scrutiny.

No doubt ASA will be tested and judged on their actions in ensuring the credibility and integrity of their province. It’s a golden opportunity for newly appointed CEO Frik Vermaak to start his rebuild of a clean, well-administered sport.

The 2011 World Championships provided the basis and inspiration required for the athletes to look forward and progress towards the London Olympics.

Pistorius looks set to become the first double amputee Olympian, Semenya gained confidence from her 2011 medal, LJ van Zyl is already building on his new training strategy, and the likes of KZN’s Tanith Maxwell, Annerien van Schalkwyk, Rene Kalmer and Irvette van Blerk are raising the bar on the standards required to secure their places in the women’s marathon.

If the dedication of the athletes can be mirrored in the election of new Athletics South Africa and KZN administrators, the sport can move to London and Brazil in 2016.

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