Sports dept lets pupils down

2013-03-18 00:00

PARENTS of 73 young athletes feel betrayed by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sports and Recreation after it announced at the eleventh hour that it could not afford to take pupils to a national championships.

An official of the department told the pupils at the last minute on Friday it had no money to pay for their three-day competition in the South African National Primary Schools Track and Field Championships, held in Sasolburg at the weekend.

One of the parents, Mercy Mhlanga of Cato Ridge, said her daughter was broken-hearted upon hearing from a Sports and Recreation official that there would be no buses because there was no money.

She borrowed money to ensure her nine-year-old daughter could compete in the championships.

She said her daughter loved running and was even dreaming about competing in the Olympics.

“I had to make a plan because she was going to blame me for the trip’s failure.

“She doesn’t know the government officials. She knows me.”

Mhlanga said she borrowed money from her siblings and spent close to R4 000 on accommodation, public transport and food.

“I didn’t even know Sasolburg. I had to hire taxis and they are quite expensive. I had no directions. My child was exhausted walking up and down.

“Other children from other provinces had kits, but my child had to run without one. She wore her school’s tracksuits.”

Mhlanga said she hoped the department would refund her.

Sandra Meyer, of Louwsburg, was equally frustrated, saying Sports and Recreation had previously paid all the travel expenses to have primary school pupils represent their province.

Meyer said that of the 90 pupils who had been selected from schools across KZN, only 13 managed to go to Sasolburg.

“The department is always encouraging schools to do sports, but this is their attitude?” Meyer asked.

“I needed to borrow money from my mum to fund the trip,” Meyer said.

“Many children with suitcases had to be turned away.”

She added that her daughter won a bronze medal in the discus event.

One of the coaches from a school in Durban, who was also selected to go with the KZN team, said they were disappointed.

“Children were crying as we sent them back to their schools after waiting hours for the buses. And when they got to school, other children were laughing at them.

“Kids were traumatised,” the coach said.

“We take time to train these children and sometimes we use money from our own pockets for transport. This is not a small thing,” the coach said on condition of anonymity.

He added that for some pupils, bursaries hinged on their athletic performance.

He said names of the participants had been sent to the department well in advance.

He feared that most of the pupils had forfeited their chances of getting bursaries because of the the department’s failure to send then to the championships.

IFP chief whip Henry Combrinck said 71 of the 90 team members were pupils from black schools.

“We do not grow Olympic champions overnight and it takes years to bring these children to this standard,” he added.

A spokesperson for Sports and Recreation, Mluleki Mntungwa, said the department was not aware that they had to fund the tour, but it would investigate the matter.

The Department of Education was not available for comment.

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