Rowing South Africa and Swimming South Africa briefed the Committee on their transformation and development plans, providing a brief history of their organisations, their challenges with funding and their progress for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Both organisations entertained questions from the Committee on participation levels in their respective sports, particularly in regards to age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, the technical aspects of their sports and key indicators of success in relation to equipment, coaches and the athletes themselves. The challenge around funding and the issue of potential came to the fore during the discussion with both organisations. Committee Members were receptive to both organizations progress, and were perceptive to their concerns, and stated that the fruitful engagement would allow for efficient deliberations by the Committee.
The Rowing South Africa (RowSA) panel present to respond to questions and concerns raised by members consisted of Ms Wimpie Du Plessis, President, RowSA; Ms Virginia Mabaso, Development Coordinator, RowSA; Mr Ramon Di Clemente, Chair of Athletic Commission, RowSA, and Mr Roger Barrow, National Coach, RowSA.
The SSA panel present to respond to questions and concerns was comprised of Mr Jace Naidoo, President, SSA, and Mr Shaun Adriaanse, CEO, SSA.
Presentation on RowSA
Ms Du Plessis articulated the governance, structure and history of RowSA. RowSA participated in sprint rowing, paralympics rowing (para-rowing), indoor rowing, and coastal rowing. RowSA had participated in the Olympic Games since 1928. It had won 2 Olympic medals (Gold—London 2012, Bronze—Athens 2004) and was the finalist in four categories of the 2012 South African Sports Awards.
RowSA was the sole governing body for the sport of rowing in South Africa. It controlled, administered, managed and co-ordinated rowing and rowing competitions in South Africa and managed international competition through national representatives. RowSA membership was structured through provincial rowing associates and affiliates, designated as ‘constituent members’ in the RowSA constitution.
Ms Mabaso discussed RowSA’s development and transformation plan, which specifically emphasised the Learn to Row Rural Programme that aimed to transform indoor rowing into a competitive, mass participation sport that simultaneously identified talent and transcended rowing across all ages, genders, disabilities and geographical locations. In doing so, RowSA strived to cultivate a healthy society, provide volunteering and leadership opportunities and generated employment in the sport. The ultimate goals were to increase the number of para, indoor and water rowers, hire coaches with international expertise and win gold medals in the Olympics.
Mr Di Clemente talked about RowSA’s transformation plans and specifically discussed the issue of junior club development, which had been identified as a major shortcoming in the organisation’s overall development. The broad goals were to establish relationships with clubs and start development work for the establishment of a centre of excellence that would provide facilities, participation, training and competition. The key success factors in the establishment of these clubs were that they had to be linked to an existing infrastructure, such as an established rowing club or school; they required a full-time coach employed by RowSA to ensure that goals were achieved and, lastly, access to equipment, such as ergo machines.
Mr Barrow talked about the preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and specifically underlined the successful criterion for athletes and staff (e.g. coaches, trainers and doctors), the economics of Olympic glory, and medal potential. The mission was to prepare and train a squad of elite rowing athletes at senior, para, under 23, junior and student levels in order for them to compete at an international level, culminating at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, with the purpose of ensuring those athletes make A finals and win medals. He concluded by addressing the dire budget constraints despite the good results that occurred during the 2012 Olympics.
Mr G Mackenzie (COPE) stated that RowSA had made South Africa very proud and noted that water-related sports had accounted for 90% of all medals won during the 2012 Olympics. He asked how important indoor rowing training was for the athletes and, secondly, how many children participated in rowing from both the established and rural communities.
Mr Di Clemente replied that rowing was not analogous to running, in that it was not a natural action, which made indoor rowing so beneficial because it enabled the rower to perfect the rowing motion for the water.
Ms Du Plessis responded to the second question and stated that 50 schools participated in the junior club league, comprising of approximately 1,500 to 2,000 junior rowers all together.
Mr M Dikgacwi (ANC) asked how long it took to develop athletic talent.
Mr Barrow answered that the norm was typically ten years, or 10,000 hours, but there had been rare instances where individuals had evolved to Olympic class athletes in only four years. He also mentioned the “cross pollination of sports” where RowSA would recruit athletes from other water sports, such as water polo, that already possessed the necessary athleticism and personality traits, and simply taught them the technical skills of rowing.
Ms G Tseke (ANC) asked where RowSA received funding from.
Ms Du Plessis replied that RowSA was entirely dependent on sponsors for funding since rowing was not a spectator sport, which made funding a serious challenge.
The Chairperson asked if the schools encouraged student to participate in rowing.
Ms Du Plessis replied that schools did not actively encourage rowing because rowing was a very expensive sport to establish and pointed to the costs of boats and facilities. This illuminated Members on why it was so difficult for rural school to establish rowing and, henceforth why rowing programmess needed to be linked to existing infrastructure, or, alternatively, for multiple schools to pool resources and build a centralised rowing facility.
Mr Mackenzie asked if performance-enhancing drugs were a pervasive problem in rowing, and, secondly, whether RowSA possessed sufficient scientific knowledge to win gold medals at the Olympics. Great Britain, for instance, hired engineers to assist in the science of the long-jump in preparation of the 2012 Olympics. Thirdly, how many events (in the Olympics) had RowSA targeted to receive a medal in?
Ms Du Plessis replied that the international community, including RowSA, had a very strong stance against performance-enhancing drugs and practiced a zero-tolerance policy. One country in the 2012 Olympics, for example, was caught doping and was immediately disqualified. Furthermore, South Africa had a volunteer programme that carried out random drug screenings at regatta races.
Mr Barrow added that the lack of funding had hindered RowSA’s ability to be as technically advanced as other countries. Alternatively, though, RowSA was very strong—physiologically—and relied on strengths such as these, as oppose to gadgets, to perform at the top level. With regards to medals, RowSA was focused on three boats for 2016: two for para-rowing and one regular.
The Chairperson thanked RowSA for their presentation and believed South Africa would be a formidable competitor in the sport in only ten years time. He stressed that South Africa must win gold medals, for placing second or third would not yield the necessary sponsorships or benefit the country as a whole. He noted the importance of gender parity in rowing and hoped it would continue to grow, and expressed his general contentment with RowSA and their positive future prospects.
Presentation on Swimming South Africa (SSA)
SSAs overall objective was to encourage the practice of aquatic disciplines for all South Africans with the purpose of promoting swimming as a life skill through the Learn To Swim Programme. The organisation’s mission was to provide aquatic programmes and services to the public and their members that would deliver medal winning performances and ensure that every South African was a swimmer. Strategically, SSA strived to increase the participation in aquatic sports with the intent to increase finalists and medal winners in domestic and international competition and to improve the governance, management and communication of programmes and services. The transformation objective was to transform aquatics to be reflective of the demographics of South Africa and for swimmers to view themselves as South Africans, rather than discriminating from notions of race, colour or culture.
In essence, the Learn to Swim Programme strived to ensure that all South Africans could swim. The programme was active in 134 districts in the country, with 570,000 learners across 793 schools. The percentage of black participants had increased dramatically from just 15% in 1999, to more than 25% today. The Learn to Swim Programme had partnerships with national and provincial governments, local authorities, tertiary institutions, other sporting organisations, fitness centres and the media with the overall goal of increasing participation in aquatic sports. Lastly, parity had developed amongst both aquatic spectators and participants in concerns to age, gender and race.
Strategic and transformative objectives were often thwarted by limited funding which specifically impeded on swimmers’ ability to deliver medals and for disadvantaged communities to access pools; facilities were not maintained, coaches were regularly and successfully bribed with higher salaries from other countries, and SSA lost their sponsorship in 2012, despite its admirable performance in the 2012 Olympics. Transforming recreation swimming to competitive swimming, and continental swimming to international swimming, required a lot more funding
Mr T Lee (DA) stated that SSA made South Africa proud. He expressed frustration that SSA did not receive any (financial) support and that the Committee should be ashamed. He rhetorically asked why the Committee should fund boxing, which brought negligible financial or social returns to South Africa, and not SSA. He was baffled that SSA could not obtain any sponsorship even with its recent success in the 2012 Olympics.
Mr Mackenzie sought clarity on funding and specifically asked if the National Lottery was still funding SSA. He also asked to what degree South African Airways (SAA) had assisted SSA.
Mr Naidoo replied that the National Lottery agreed to a three-year contract with SSA. In terms of corporate sponsors, Telkom previously sponsored SSA but had indicated that it was switching its focus from swimming to cricket, rugby and football. With regards to SAA, it had provided discounted flights for SSA but it had never offered free flights.
Mr Mackenzie noted that the popularity of water polo had significantly declined over the years and asked the Chairperson if the Committee had stopped funding the sport. Secondly, did SSA have any clubs and, if so, were they planning to establish additional ones.
Mr Naidoo responded that school water polo was still very strong. Unfortunately, water polo was primarily a European-based sport and the cost of travelling hindered SSA’s ability to compete in those leagues. Moreover, water polo shared the same season with rugby and most youths opted to play the latter. SSA nevertheless believed water polo had the potential to be the “next big thing” and were taking various measures to develop it.
Mr Adriaanse added that SSA had a fairly robust club programme, where international success was primarily driven by clubs. However, due to socioeconomic conditions, clubs were only prevalent in white, suburban-based, middle class communities.
The Chairperson thanked both SSA and RowSA for their enlightening briefings. He conveyed his confidence that both sporting codes would be formidable competitors in the international scene within the next few years. He underlined the social, economical and political benefits of winning gold medals at the 2016 Olympics and wished both organisations the best of luck.
The meeting was adjourned.
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