Anger at SA skier's exclusion
Cape Town - A young South African ski champion, whose best friend died during a traditional tribal initiation ceremony, faced a new setback when he was prevented from taking part in the Winter Olympics.
Sive Speelman, 18, qualified for Sochi despite undergoing a traditional circumcision himself as well as money problems, but organisers kept him from competing because he is unlikely to win a medal, the national snow sports association said.
"We find it almost incomprehensible that South Africa would not see the benefit of being represented at the Olympics," said Snow Sports South Africa president Peter Pilz.
Speelman grew up in the rural Eastern Cape province, close to the country's only ski resort.
Identified and coached by former South African Olympic skier Alexander Heath, the teen was set to be the country's only participant at the Winter Olympics in Sochi from February 7-23.
He travelled to compete in Europe thanks to funds from the International Olympic Committee, but struggled to qualify in December after the shock of his best friend's death during a traditional initiation ceremony into manhood.
After returning home for Christmas, Speelman underwent the same ritual, which includes traditional circumcision and surviving under harsh conditions in the bush, just weeks before his final efforts to qualify for the Games.
"He felt at the time it's the best thing to do because it will make him a man," said Pilz. "He would perform as a man, not as a boy."
Though he narrowly missed qualifying, the International Ski Federation (FIS) would allow him to compete because he was a "borderline" case, added Pilz.
"They're not just blindly following the rules."
But the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) said last Thursday they would not deliver Speelman to compete, noting "the athlete concerned is currently ranked 2 290th in the world."
It would guard that the country's participation at similar international events is "of the highest quality," the body added in a statement.
South Africa tightened its selection of athletes after a dismal performance at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, where the country won only one medal.
The team improved slightly at last year's London Games, bringing back six.
But the event was about sportsmanship and larger than country prestige, said Pilz.
"If more nations in the world would adopt the attitude of only sending medal contenders Olympics would never be the same again."
SASCOC has yet to respond to Sport24 emails sent last Friday.