SASCOC ready to duel with SA fencer

Juliana Barrett (Gallo)
Juliana Barrett (Gallo)

Cape Town - SASCOC president Gideon Sam says his organisation is ready to go to court to battle 22-year-old South African fencer Juliana Barrett.

Law firm Thomson Wilks Inc confirmed on Monday that it had served SASCOC with a summons for "culpable and wrongful failure" to enter Barrett into the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Barrett qualified for Rio when she won the International Fencing Federation (FIE) African qualifying tournament held in Algeria in April 2016. 

She is also suing the Fencing Federation of South Africa for their role in not getting her a ticket to Rio. 

According to the Thomson Wilks statement, Barrett's total claim amounts to R5 673 000.

Barrett was not the only South African sportsman, sportswoman or team to have earned qualification to Rio without having been selected for Team South Africa. 

While there are continental qualification criteria for most Olympic sports, SASCOC is the organisation that has the final say on which athletes are sent to the Games. 

Both the men's and women's hockey teams, for example, secured qualification to Rio after being crowned African champions, but they were not selected to go.

SASCOC had insisted that the hockey teams qualify for the Olympics through the more challenging Hockey World League, and while SA Hockey did not view that criteria as 'fair', they signed the agreement. 

The idea is that SASCOC does not spend money on sending athletes to the Olympics who, realistically, would not stand a chance of challenging for a medal. 

While Sam was not aware of the exact criteria in Barrett's case, he confirmed there would have been an agreement set up between SASCOC and the Fencing Federation of South Africa.

"We have a document that the president of fencing (Novak Perovic) has signed," Sam told Sport24 on Tuesday.

"At the beginning of every cycle we get the federation presidents together and they, with us, deliver what the criteria will be.

"They then talk about it and bring it back to the board. Then it goes to council.

"I have never signed those documents until I see the signature of the president of the federation on them first."

Perovic told Sport24 that there was never a 'negotiation' with SASCOC over the criteria, and it was a more a case of having to agree to their demands to stand any chance of getting to Rio. 

Perovic says that SASCOC, as was the case with the hockey sides, had ruled out continental qualification for Rio. Instead, they expected Barrett to secure qualification through an international event. 

According to Perovic, the tournament that Barrett won in Algeria was an international event. 

"It wasn't the African Championships, it was an FIE qualifying tournament and that is something that we were trying to point out, but it wasn't accepted because only African fencers participated," he said.

"It wasn't something that we could negotiate.

"I tried everything."

SASCOC also received a letter from the FIE confirming Barrett's Olympic qualification, but Perovic said that SASCOC refuses to budge.

On why Barrett is suing the Fencing Federation of South Africa, Perovic could not say too much.

"She, or whoever is behind this, is declaring that I wasn't authorised as the president to sign the agreement with SASCOC," he said.

"I cannot say more than that.

"I did everything, personally and as the president, to give her the opportunity to go to Rio. But it is in the interpretation of the criteria."

Barrett alleges that SASCOC "intentionally or negligently" failed to meet the June 6, 2016 deadline to confirm her Rio participation.

"Juliana missed the opportunity to participate at the Rio Olympics solely due to the bureaucratic incompetence of SASCOC, who negligently failed to timeously register her as a participant with the IOC. She is a young, energetic South African athlete in the prime of her career and the only Olympic qualifying fencer in the world who did not participate," said Thomson Wilks managing partner, Stephen Thomson.

"We intend to make full use of Juliana’s legal remedies to ensure that Juliana is compensated for the financial losses she now faces as a result of SASCOC’s negligence."

The matter is set to go to trial in the High Court in Johannesburg. A date has yet to be confirmed. 

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