Cape Town - For the past six years Athletics South Africa (ASA) has always seemed to be either emerging from a scandal, headed for one or slap-bang in the middle it, while the athletes played second fiddle. But times are changing.
According to the supersport.com website, this past weekend, Stellenbosch played host to a well-supported, fairly well-organised and highly-successful South African Athletics Championships, where the narrative changed from a focus on the boardroom shenanigans at ASA to the solid performances of the athletes themselves.
A new generation of talented athletes delivered promising performances at the Commonwealth Games last year and the past weekend proved that they’ve continued to build on that success and are looking good for the challenge at the World Championships in Beijing from August 22-30.
The new administration cannot take credit for the athletes’ success - president Aleck Skhosana and his Board were only elected in June last year, only a month-and-half ahead of the Commonwealth Games - but the stability at the top certainly hasn’t hurt anyone associated with the sport.
“When we were elected we said coaches must coach, athletes must run and all of them must stay out of the politics. They listened to us. South Africa is back as a powerhouse on the continent. We are back. Athletics South Africa is back. It shows that wherever there is peace, there will always be progress,” Skhosana said in Stellenbosch this weekend.
He had reason to be optimistic as 10 athletes made the qualifying standard for the World Championships this weekend, overshadowing news earlier in the week of sprinter Simon Magakwe’s two-year ban for a doping offence.
Anaso Jobodwana (200m), Wayde van Niekerk (400m), Sunette Viljoen (javelin), Orazio Cremona (shot put), Jaco Engelbrecht (shot put), Ruswahl Samaai (long jump), Stephen Mokoka (5000m, national record), Lebogang Shange (20km walk), Wayne Snyman (20km walk) and LJ van Zyl (400m hurdles) all booked their places in Beijing, while the likes of Akani Simbine (100m and 200m) and Wenda Nel (400m hurdles) travelled to Stellenbosch having already qualified.
“The athletics has been very good and this week and that is what the public has been waiting for. It’s no longer about (boardroom) individuals, it’s about the athletes. It’s about Caster Semenya winning the 800m title again, it’s about Anaso Jobodwana and Akani Simbine and their times in the sprints, it’s about LJ van Zyl’ s 49.29 after he was written off – a good week all round,” Skhosana explained.
“Other countries would have taken years to recover (from years of mismanagement, but we’re recovering quickly. This weekend justifies that point.”
Skhosana is not naïve, though. Athletics on the track may be in a fairly healthy position, but financially the body is still struggling after a string of bad decisions. Pole-vaulter Jan Blignaut sued ASA for R12 million for the head injury he suffered during a sanctioned meet in 2009 and won a default judgment after ASA failed to defend the case.
“The situation emanates from the boardroom shenanigans. ASA was called to the High Court and the leadership didn’t go to court, the court then ruled in Jan Blignaut’s favour and granted the millions,” said Skhosana. “When we are called to court, we have to go. The people who started this fire are relaxing wherever they are and now we have to deal with this. They knew very well the consequences of not going to court.”
Skhosana and his Board have a fight on their hands as they try to get the federation’s finances in order.
“We are negotiating and we have to see what will happen with the house (which ASA owns in Houghton). The house was bought when ASA was in a better position. It was a good investment, but we have to explore the options. Even if we lose the house, athletics will continue and we’ll work hard to make sure that happens – no matter where we are operating from.”
Focus now turns to the final Varsity Athletics meet also set to be held in Stellenbosch on Monday evening (live on SS6 at 18:00). Some of the country’s biggest names have stayed behind to compete.