JOHANNESBURG - CAN’T walk, can’t run, can’t jump, can’t throw! Well, at least not well enough to earn an Olympic medal.
That’s the sad tale of South Africa following a three-week long campaign at sport’s greatest spectacle. The Tokyo Games will no doubt go down as an episode in SA’s Olympic story best forgotten.
Of course, we will always fondly remember Tatjana Schoenmaker’s double medals (gold and silver) and world record in the pool, as well as Bianca Buitendag’s silver in surfing. The duo’s showing provided a literal silver lining on an otherwise pathetic campaign.
We were supposed to bring home 15 medals, right?
That’s what the suits at the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) promised us. SA’s Olympic sports governing body had said we would add five more medals to the 10 we bought home from Rio five years ago. And we took them at their word. We had to. They are responsible for Team SA’s performance at the Games and they wouldn’t have spoken about the target just out of a whim, would they?
Well, now that we brought a paltry three medals back from Tokyo, they are suddenly singing a different tune with Sascoc president Barry Hendricks lamenting the lack of finances and saying it would have been unfair to expect more.
“Sascoc cannot place unrealistic expectations on the athletes when we know full well that we can’t compete with the likes of Great Britain, who receive £350 million (about R7.1bn) over a fouryear cycle in preparation for the Olympics and we receive R28m,” Hendricks was quoted as saying.
Fair enough, but why go and make as bold a pronouncement as Sascoc did prior to Tokyo. Sure it was his predecessor Gideon Sam who said that, but Hendricks did nothing to inform us otherwise.
Also, good leadership would have seen Sascoc use that R28m to ensure that our medal hopefuls are afforded the best possible preparations so they can shine.
With the Covid-19 restrictions, athletes found it hard to prepare properly for the conditions they faced in Tokyo – and the fact SA were in our winter just before the Games didn’t help. A governing body serious about attaining great results would have moved heaven and earth to ensure that their medal hopefuls are at least afforded a chance to compete for honours.
But no, Sascoc, and the federations left the athletes to fend for themselves, with Stephen Mokoka for example, having to train in poor facilities with his teammates and risk getting injured because the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre and grounds were closed at some stage.
We knew a while back that the Olympics were coming, but instead of focusing on helping the athletes prepare – the sports leaders had their eyes on securing their positions and spent time campaigning for elections.
There can be no denying that we have enough talent in the country to challenge for medals at the Olympics. What we do need is for these athletes to be provided with the best possible means of preparations to be able to give their best. And that is not only physical preparation but mentally as well, with some of the failures at Tokyo clearly being down to our athletes’ lack of mental fortitude to push themselves when the occasion really demanded them to.