Athletes must ‘pay own way to Rio’

Hezekiél Sepeng
Hezekiél Sepeng

Despite a windfall of R70 million, South Africa’s medal hopefuls will have to cough up thousands of rands just to get to this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

With just more than four weeks to go until the Games get under way, at least three of the country’s top athletes do not know if their coaches will be allowed to accompany them to Brazil.

Three athletes, who have already qualified for the Games and who spoke to City Press’ sister newspaper Rapport on condition of anonymity, are outraged about an email from Hezekiél Sepeng, the athletics coordinator of Athletics SA (ASA), in which he warns that the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) will only contribute R12 000 towards competitors’ airline tickets.

Sepeng’s letter was sent to qualifiers for the games on Thursday, just hours after the National Lottery Commission apportioned R70 million to Sascoc for the Olympic Games, which start on August 5 and end on August 21.

Gideon Sam, Sascoc’s president, said during the announcement that the money would be used to help athletes with their preparations.

But according to Sepeng, athletes will have to pay their own airfare and Sascoc will reimburse them at a later stage.

“Sascoc will reimburse a maximum of R12 000 for a return flight to Rio de Janeiro,” writes Sepeng.

“If the cost of the flight is less, only that amount may be claimed.”

The cheapest SAA flight to Rio on July 23, when a large group of team members will depart, is about R19 000.

One of the disgruntled athletes, a strong contender for an Olympic medal, told Rapport that it often took Sascoc up to four months to reimburse claims.

“I am still waiting for money I claimed in February,” the athlete said. “Where do these millions go if we [the athletes] never see any of it?”

According to another athlete, neither ASA nor Sascoc had reacted to enquiries about whether coaches would be able to accompany athletes to Rio and, if so, who would foot the bill.

“We have to book flights and organise accommodation, but we’re not getting any answers from them.

“We’ve become used to having to compete overseas without our coaches, but if they wanted to make it easier for us to win medals, they would have approved this long ago.”

A training camp in South America, which would have helped to prepare the athletes, was recently cancelled, allegedly because ASA could not afford to pay for it.

According to Sepeng, athletes will be expected to report to a preparation camp in Johannesburg on July 21.

Athletes who aren’t in Johannesburg will be expected to make their way to the camp at their own expense.

Various participants who have qualified for the Olympics and are currently competing in Europe have already indicated that they refused to attend this training camp.

According to Sepeng’s email, athletes will also be required to leave the Olympic village the day after their events because their “accreditation will be cancelled”.

In response to a query from Rapport, Sepeng confirmed that members of Sascoc’s executive board would attend the Olympic Games.

“Board members choose if they want to attend the Olympic or Paralympic Games, but is only for one half, as has always been the case.”

He vehemently denied that team members would have to buy their own tickets.

“Athletes have never had to pay. The letter can’t be applicable to Rio athletes,” he said.

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