What is Operation Excellence (Opex) to the uninitiated?
Opex is a support programme that allocates funding to help athletes who have the potential to qualify and return medals at the highest level of competition in multicoded events.
Opex funding has come in for criticism for some time now. Doesn’t the programme need some form of restructuring?
Unfortunately, that’s how people see it. But practically it is near impossible to restructure and allocate support over a four-year cycle, as some suggest. It is still a good idea, but there would still be targets to be met.
How and where does the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) source funds for Opex?
It is a process involving the government, the National Lottery and the IOC [International Olympic Committee]. Lotto and the government have got their own process where there are advertisements and deadlines to apply for funding. With the IOC, we apply for specific programmes through the Olympic Solidarity
Commission, which assists national Olympic committees – particularly those with the greatest needs – through multifaceted programmes prioritising athlete development, training of coaches and sports administrators.
How much has Sascoc spent on Opex in the current cycle?
We have spent about R35 million so far on Olympic and Paralympic programmes. We will assess those who are currently on the Opex at the end of this month to see if targets were reached and scale down the support according to the potential and specific needs of athletes (see box for athletes on the Olympic programme).
Who decides on the allocation of funds?
The national federations submit the lists according to the criteria that we set. Once the recommendations satisfy the criteria, the general manager for high performance [Ezera Tshabangu] and the board look at the needs of those athletes and make allocations accordingly. We can only fund what we can afford.
How are funds channelled to the athletes?
Essentially, we allocate the money in the first month and athletes must provide slips and proof of expenditure thereafter. We do direct bookings for flights and accommodation wherever we can.
Are administrators also benefiting from Opex funding?
The only officials who benefit are the coaches who are identified from a national perspective, together with the federations.
What are the causes of delays between claims and payments in some instances?
If we don’t get the slips and proof of expenditure on time, and when the organisation experiences cash flow problems as a result of waiting for funding.
We pay on the 20th of each month, but if we don’t get proof of how the allocation was spent, we don’t process the payments.
What role are national federations expected to play towards athletes’ funding?
Athletes are the responsibility of the national federations, not Sascoc. Unfortunately, most of the federations don’t have the resources and sponsorship to run their programmes. The national federations submit [the names of athletes to Opex] – as many as they can – hoping that all of them will come into the programme.
Are those supported athletes the employees of Sascoc by virtue of being contracted to the Opex programme?
We currently have athletes who are on six-month contracts, but that doesn’t make them employees of Sascoc, because it is the agreement between an athlete, their national federation and Sascoc.
Your annual salary [R2 million as at the year ended March 2013] as the CEO always comes into question when athletes’ financial needs become the talking point...
It comes up all the time. I am employed full time by Sascoc and earn a salary. This is a normal practice and I don’t have to hide it.
My salary, together with the allowances of board members, are disclosed through our annual financial reports.
Opex consists of three tiers that provide varying degrees of funding and support to athletes:
. Athletes in this category receive comprehensive support from Sascoc.
. This category includes medallists from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Tier one also accommodates 2012 Olympic and Paralympic finalists.
. These athletes must still be eligible for participation at next year’s Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
. This category is for junior and youth athletes who were medallists and finalists at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, as well as finalists from the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games.
. This group is picked based on its potential to return medals at the Rio Olympics and Paralympics.
. Athletes receive support if they have consistently proven their potential to return medals at major international events.
. Sascoc will, after considering the motivations of the national federations, look at supporting such athletes.
. The programme covers living expenses, medical aid, transport to and from training sessions and access to training facilities.
. Monthly support is granted to assist towards meals (excluding restaurant bills), petrol or taxi fares to training and competitions, as well as cellphone,
internet and stipulated expenses incurred as part of preparations for the Rio Olympics.
. Coaching fees are paid directly to coaches while scientific and medical-support services are paid directly to service providers.
. The programme also offers support to national federations for international camps and competitions; local camps and competitions; and technological support services.
. Sport-specific equipment, based on special applications and endorsed by the national federation, is also paid for along with career planning and life-skills support, which is based on a programme implemented by Sascoc.