Stofile jumps in for Hestrie

2004-08-31 16:16

Johannesburg - South Africa's Minister of Sport Makhenkesi Stofile came out to bat on Tuesday for beleaguered high jump queen Hestrie Cloete on the arrival of Team SA from Athens.

Cloete who claimed silver in her event on Saturday night has had to witness from afar as a racial storm brewed around her family. Cloete remained in Europe to compete in the remaining Golden League athletics meetings.

A Sunday newspaper reported racial remarks made at a family farm in Coligny during a gathering to watch the world champion compete in the final.

According to the Sunday Times report, Cloete's husband, Andries, told their reporter, who had gone to their home in Coligny to watch the women's high jump event, how he had gone out of his way to deny access to a black journalist who wanted to be with the family.

In addition, they called National Olympic Committee of South Africa (Nocsa) president Sam Ramsamy a "coolie" and made a number of racist remarks during the evening.

Andries has since been reported denying the accusations, blaming inaccurate journalism for the furore and distancing himself from the use of strong language.

And Stofile threw his weight behind Cloete, saying that she should not be held responsible for comments made by a family member.

Bad skeletons in the family

"It's unfair to judge Hestrie on the behaviour of members of her family," said Stofile. "We all have bad skeletons in our families."

"Hestrie put up a wonderful performance at the Olympics and we should all be proud of that. She was beaten by a younger athlete and that achievement (her silver medal) should not be belittled by comments made by others," said Stofile.

News of the incident swept through the SA Olympic camp at the weekend, leaving a collective sense of despair for Cloete who carried the weight of the nation on her narrow shoulders and faltered at 2.04m to lose the Olympic gold medal to Russia's Yelena Slesarenko on Saturday night.

Cloete had been overwhelming favourite to improve her Sydney silver medal to a gold.

Cloete appeared tense both during competition and afterwards at the international media conference where she said she was going to take until the end of the year to decide on her future in world athletics.

"I've said I'll make a decision by the end of the year," Cloete said at the time. "I'm not going to decide now. It's too soon after the Olympic event. I need to settle down and think about this. I want to be clear-minded when I decide."