London Olympics 2012 preparations: briefing by South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee

Sports, Arts and Culture

28 February 2012
Chairperson: Mr M Mdakane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee spoke about the preparations for the 2012 Winter Olympic Games in London. The support teams were in place and most of the names of athletes that had qualified for the Games were known. In some codes their athletes had failed to qualify within the given time, while in others there was till an opportunity for qualification. A breakdown of assistance given to individual athletes was explained to the Committee. About R34 million had been spent, and another R24 million would be spent by the end of the Games. This money was available. However, another R20 million was needed to support those athletes not in the programme yet but who could still qualify in their respective codes. Members were urged to assist in securing this funding. It was troubling that no mention had been made of sport in the Budget Speech despite it being an Olympic year.

Members expressed their concerns on various issues such as the standard of boxing in the country, the differences in investment in sport, especially the Olympic codes, the lack of facilities which hampered the development of sport, existing facilities needed to be better utilised, how the passion for sport was waning in the new generation of administrators, the role of women in sport and participation in the Winter Olympics. They asked how the ranking systems worked and the way in which qualification was determined. The Chairperson commented that the lack of achievement was more about poor organisation rather than a lack of resources. Even with unlimited funding, sport would still struggle if this issue was not dealt wit

Meeting report

The Chairperson told the South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) delegation that presentations should be forwarded to Parliament at least seven days before the meeting date. This would enable Members to make themselves aware of the content of the presentation before the meeting.

South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) briefing
Mr Gideon Sam, President, SASCOC, introduced the team.

Ms Ezera Tshabangu, General Manager: High Performance, SASCOC, said that selection policies had been outlined to the national federations in 2010. These were specific to the different codes. Meetings had been held to explain the policy to the federations in 2010. There had been some amendments after negotiations. Athletes were selected by the national federations. SASCOC ratified their selections in terms of the agreed policies.

Ms Tshabangu was happy that the women's hockey team had qualified as there had been much debate over their situation. SASCOC was not satisfied with the standard of the African Olympic Qualifier, which had been held in Bulawayo in 2011 featuring just four teams. As the team was ranked twelfth in the world, SASCOC was not satisfied that they were good enough to compete at the Olympics. The team had to qualify for the final of the Champions Challenge, which they had failed to do. After some negotiation, they had been allowed to attend an Olympic qualifier in India, which the team had won.

Ms Tshabangu said that there were also problems with table tennis for the Paralympics. Their athletes were not ranked within the top eight in the world and thus were not considered for African qualification. In fact they were outside the world top twenty.

Ms Tshabangu said that the stricter selection policy had produced better performances. This was evident from the results achieved at the All-African Games (AAG). The other question was how to develop the country's capacity in the Winter Olympics. There were some relaxations for athletics.

Ms Tshabangu presented the status quo. In athletics, four had qualified for the marathon event, namely one woman and three men. Their inclusion in the final team still had to be ratified. One female canoeist had qualified in the K1 500 event. There was one cycling slot in the men's road race. The women's football team had qualified and were entitled to take a squad of eighteen to the Games. Six rowers had qualified for the women's pair and men's lightweight four events. Most recently the women's hockey team had qualified and would be allowed a squad of sixteen.

Ms Tshabangu listed the number of slots available for the Paralympics. The number of athletics slots would be advised by the International Paralympics Committee (IPC). There were two cycling slots, one each for men and women. There were four slots in the equestrian events. There were two swimming slots for men and one for a woman. The men's wheelchair basketball had qualified and would be taking a squad of twelve players.

Ms Tshabangu said that some codes had already been unable to produce qualified athletes before their deadlines had expired. This applied to the codes of basketball, men's football, gymnastics, handball, modern pentathlon and taekwondo. Athletes from other national federations were still attempting to reach the qualifying standards.

Ms Tshabangu said that Operation Excellence had been launched to prepare athletes in the world top sixteen. This focus was now being sharpened to the top eight. Such athletes had the chance to reach finals and thus had an increased probability of medals. Project teams had been appointed in May 2009. Pre-Games training camp bases had been identified in August 2009. Chefs de Mission appointed in 2010. The Chief Medical Officers were also appointed early in January 2011.

Ms Tshabangu said the next event would be the launch of the team mascot. A short-list would be published in three popular magazines in March. The public would then have the chance to vote. The top designers in the country would be engaged to design the opening ceremony uniform, with public input. Team kit was being designed.

Ms Tshabangu said the kit launch would take place in April. The first announcement of the Olympic team would be on 7 June, and a second announcement would follow on 4 July. Paralympics team would be announced on 20 June. A pre-departure camp would be held in July. The team would leave for London on 19 July to acclimatise before the Games started on 27 July. The Paralympics pre-departure camp would be in August, and they would leave the country on 17 August. Their Games started on 29 August.

Ms Tshabangu said that support teams had been appointed. Experts had been used in terms of medical and scientific issues on the High Performance Commission. The athletes were represented by Marsha Marescia, the hockey captain. A special advisory group had also been appointed to advise on issues including technology. Various coaches were included in this group to balance the scientific with a more practical approach. Psychologists had also been appointed. Sports physicians had been identified around the country and the high performance academies around the country were assisting.

Ms Tshabangu said that R33.9 million had been invested into support to date. A further R1.4 million had gone towards Olympic scholarships. A health management system was in place. The podium system was used to track performances throughout the world. There was a detailed breakdown on the allocations to individual athletes.

Ms Tshabangu said that federations had submitted their requirements. Another approximately R20 million was needed as athletes were still trying to qualify. Preparations were continuing. A reconnaissance visit had been held in February. A meeting would be held with managers and federations in March with a follow-up in June. Preparation activities were being monitored. The South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) would be giving their input to ensure that all members of the team were clean.

Mr Tubby Reddy, Chief Executive Officer, SASCOC, said that a meeting had been held with the Minister on 7 February. He had made the use of his offices available as a resource. There was funding from the lottery, sponsors and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). SASCOC still needed between R20 million and R30 million. With the Games just five months away this was concerning. The selection policies were published on the SASCOC website. There was an outcry when athletes failed to qualify even though the published policy had not been met. SASCOC was still waiting for the final sports plan from the Department of Sport and Recreation (SRSA). This was still being negotiated. Once this was finalised SASCOC would negotiate with Sport and Recreation South Africa (SRSA).

Mr M Dikgacwi (ANC) appreciated that SASCOC was at work. He asked if Parliament would be negotiating with Mr Imtiaz Patel's organisation and the private sector. One medal would not satisfy the public. The selection issue had been highlighted. Any necessary intervention must be made in time. The rainbow nation must be represented. He asked what codes were attempting to participate in the Winter Olympics. Members might be able to assist in their constituencies.

Ms Tshabangu replied that Africa was not really suited for winter sports. Only Lesotho had a proper snow facility. There were ice skating facilities around the country, but most of the top skaters were based overseas.

Ms M Dube (ANC) asked what a top eight ranking meant to an ordinary person from the township. There was not much female representation in the advisory groups. She had observed that there were never provincial competitions leading to national team selections. The people were not seeing anything in terms of codes like football and hockey. Boxing was not mentioned in the presentation. She asked about the relationship with the South African Football Association (SAFA).

Mr Sam said that one-on-one negotiations with SAFA had been concluded. SASCOC would meet with the Minister shortly. There were 25 netball clubs in Mndantsane, near East London. Players had to dress in the open as there were no ablution facilities. The country was failing its athletes by not providing proper facilities.

Mr Rabotapi (DA) asked if enough was being done to support athletes. Some had to take jobs to maintain an income.

Mr G MacKenzie (COPE) congratulated the women's hockey team. They had done the nation proud. He agreed with the comments on support for athletes. At the last Olympics, funding had come in late. He wanted to be sure that funding for 2012 would come through in time. He asked if there was any controversy with the selection policy. He asked what the expected size of Team South Africa (Team SA) would be. He asked how many athletes were in the top five rankings with a realistic chance of achieving medals. It was pitiful that only one boxer was receiving financial support. The sport was in a state of demise.

Mr Sam reminded Members that Boxing South Africa was a state-controlled body, and was only an associate member of SASCOC. The South African National Amateur Boxing Organisation (SANABO) was in a dire condition. SASCOC was doing all it could to revive the sport. Three women and seven men were in contention for a forthcoming event in Morocco. He hoped that at least five would qualify for the Olympic team. Transnet had made a facility available for training. Former members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), who had been trained as boxers, were helping with their training.

Ms Tshabangu said that federations supplied provisional lists of their athletes based on who they thought would qualify. The deadline for this was in March. The team would be finalised later. Rankings were different for each support. Athletics and swimming were performance based. Table tennis rankings were based on points achieved throughout the year, as was the case with sports like tennis and cycling. National federations were responsible for provincial competition. Hockey organised an inter-provincial tournaments. Federations would send selectors to various tournament. Swimming times would be based on standards set by FINA. Trials were only held in April before the Games. SASCOC wanted to see an A qualifying time between the world championships and the trials. A young athlete with potential might be considered on his or her B qualifying time. She expected the size of Team SA to be around one hundred. The men's hockey team still had a chance to qualify.

Mr Reddy said that the national federations were seen as autonomous. Top athletes were admitted to the Operation Excellence programme, which was funded by SASCOC. About R34 million had been spent, and another R24 million would be spent by the end of the Games. This money was available. However, another R20 million was needed to support those athletes not in the programme yet but who could still qualify. There were programmes within SASCOC to educate the people. All of these positions were voluntary, and many were not interested serving on this basis.

Mr Dikgacwi asked about infrastructure with muddy basketball courts as an example. He asked if there was any engagement with provincial government as they received grants from SRSA. He was concerned over the lack of support for Banyana Banyana from SAFA. They needed to keep their momentum going leading up to the Games. While this meeting was about Olympic preparation, he had some other concerns which he wished to raise. He asked about the match fixing issue arising from certain Bafana Bafana Games. The situation could not be allowed to develop to the point it had in cricket. In rugby, each province had its own constitution which did not always agree with the national constitution. The mother body could not intervene in disputes. Sport could not be destroyed. There were issues surrounding different standards being used in disciplining clubs from different backgrounds.

Ms Dube said people should not predict, but there should be some estimates. An entourage of officials often accompanied teams, often more than the number of players. She asked what the situation would be in London. She asked what the medal expectations were.

Mr S Mmusi (ANC) said it was obvious that proper facilities were needed. He asked if SASCOC had any plans to alleviate this situation. The President of SASCOC had come before the Committee in 2010. There was a lack of facilities, but those that did exist were used to capacity. He asked for more clarity on what the criteria were for participating in the mascot selection process.

Mr MacKenzie asked for an estimate on the number of medals that would be won. On facilities, a lot of the former Model C schools had been transformed. Many teachers had left, and sport was no longer being played there. Facilities were now standing idle. A provincial audit was being done in KwaZulu-Natal. In terms of the sports plan and talent identification, proper use of such facilities would benefit the country.

The Chairperson said that the problem was more poor organisation rather than a lack of resources. Even with unlimited funding, sport would still struggle if this issue was not dealt with. Some countries specialised in specific events, with Kenya's dominance in distance running an example

Mr Sam replied on a broad range of issues. SASCOC was being asked to travel to London and compete against the best in the world. In Australia, 3 billion Australian dollars had been spent on preparations. South Africa would, by comparison, be competing on guts and glory. The cyclists would be competing against British cyclists who had been funded to the tune of 29 million Pounds. The target was twelve medals. Any country which did not know what it wanted to achieve should not go to the Olympics.

Mr Sam said that there had been a long history of involvement in sport. In the past the goals had been clear. There had been battles in the past. After 1994 things had become blurred. People had started relaxing. Remuneration had become more and more important to individuals. The management team was not balanced. It was an economic issue. In Hammanskraal there was a lot of roller skating. One of the boys had travelled unaccompanied to Italy where he had won a gold medal. No one knew about this. Only things that happened in the top three codes – rugby, soccer and cricket – were publicised. The Minister of Finance had not spoken once about sport in his budget address, while every meeting in Parliament in 2010 had revolved around football. There had been no mention of the Olympics. SASCOC was working so hard to get the team to London. One had to look closely into what was being done. It was not just about money. People were prepared to travel at their own cost in the past because of their passion for sport. If sport was a low priority then government must say so. He appealed to the Committee to help to source the required R50 million. This was a pittance compared to what had been spent in 2010. Banyana Banyana would continue to be short changed. He called on Members to go to the Minister to get his support. The team would wear pyjamas again at the opening ceremony because that is all it had. It was an embarrassment to the country but they could not do otherwise. SASCOC was paying R1.4 million to have a programme aired on SuperSport, while the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was always pleading poverty. There was hope of an improvement in this situation, but only in the future.

Mr Rabotapi said that the talented young people must focus on the bigger picture. They must persevere.

The Chairperson said that money was important, but would not ensure success. Proper organisation was needed. The top three codes mentioned were successful based on good organisation. This made their federations attractive to sponsors. Mass participation and school sport should be the sources for talent. Money was scarce and there were many issues. He wished SASCOC well and hoped for good competition. The passion should not disappear.

Mr Sam invited Members to attend the engagements which SASCOC held with national and provincial federations.

Members discussed some in-house discussion about a planned study tour. The Chairperson urged Members to prepare themselves for forthcoming meetings.

The meeting was adjourned


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