Potchefstroom - South African athletics stalwart Shaun Bownes believes board room politics is killing a once flourishing sport, following the first of three permit meetings this season, held in Potchefstroom on Tuesday evening.
“At this stage athletics is dying a slow death and we seriously need to up our game and get it back on track,” Bownes said after his first 110 metres hurdles race in four years.
The 42-year-old pointed at the near empty pavilion and recalled the heyday of athletics when there was a clamour to find seats at local meetings.
“There are 20 people in the pavilion and it hurts me to see the way things are going,” he said.
“I’ve been running for the last 20 years and I remember when I was 18 years old, you couldn’t even find a place in the stadium.
“These days there is nothing and I really hope that the powers that are in control, between ASA (Athletics SA) and Sascoc (the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee), start cleaning house and start taking hands and forget about the politics.”
Having lost its corporate road running and track and field sponsors, ASA is facing ongoing internal issues, with more than half the board attempting to have president James Evans ousted from his post.
Bownes, however, believed allowing the provinces and clubs to host elite competitions - compared to the last few years when ASA organised the meetings through the Yellow Pages series - could be the sport's saving grace.
“That’s the way it used to be. Each club had their own meeting and it is time that the clubs and provinces take ownership,” he said.
“I can remember as a junior athlete each and every province had their own sponsorships, their own advertising and broadcasting.”
Tuesday’s meeting in Potchefstroom, hosted by Athletics Central North West, included a strong field which produced some solid performances from the athletes.
However, some athletes shunned the meeting despite accepting an invitation to participate.
Bownes, a former Commonwealth Games gold medallist, said the future nonetheless looked bright in terms of talent coming through the ranks.
On Tuesday he experienced this first hand as he was beaten to the finish by some of the athletes he coached.
The veteran high hurdler finished the race in seventh place in a time of 15.13 seconds, with Kobus Moolman taking the spoils in 14.11. Andre Storm was second in 14.13 and Mintingh Hamman took third in 14.20.
Bownes said the performance of his latest recruit, Riekenet Steenkamp, was encouraging after she won the women's 100m hurdles race in 13.78.
She was followed by Ansonette Potgieter in 13.83, and Mihandra Dorfling finished third in 14.58.
Some of the pre-meeting match-ups came to naught as top athletes did not have the necessary competition to show off their talent.
In the women's high jump Julia du Plessis was a lonely figure with no-one to challenge her.
She was the only athlete in her field to register a jump as she posted a height of 1.75m.
The men's 400m race, however, lived up to the hype as Botswana's Olympic 800m silver medallist, Nijel Amos, won the race and set a national junior record of 45.66 seconds.
He was followed by Jacques de Swardt in 45.87, while Ruan Greyling finished third in 47.04.
South Africa's top 800m athlete, Andre Olivier, also produced a decent showing in his first two-lap event of the year.
Olivier led from start to finish, winning the race in a time of one minute, 46.61 seconds (1:46.61).
Rynard van Rensburg finished second in 1:47.87, with Jonathan Cook taking third place in 1:49.57.