New kids face uncertainty

2009-04-29 13:55
Sport24 columnist Roland Schoeman (File)
Roland Schoeman

My last column spoke of the vital need for good governance in sport and, obviously, within Swimming South Africa. A specific aspect of such good governance is ensuring that there are rules, regulations and criteria in place that are transparent, known to everybody and that are consistently applied. No brain surgery there.
The SA National Swimming Championships ended on April 19. A specific purpose of the national championship was to select swimmers for the FINA World Championships to be held in Italy in July this year. The world championships - held every two years - are only eclipsed by the Olympic Games in their importance to the world of swimming. Being selected to participate at the world championships is ranked as pretty important by swimmers the world over.
While FINA (the international swimming federation) has set qualifying times per event for entry into this competition, national swimming bodies are at liberty to set their own stricter qualifying times. Swimming South Africa traditionally sets its own qualifying times at levels 'A' and 'B'. 

The SSA 'A' level times are the definitive "automatic" selection times and are pretty stringent in that it usually requires swimmers to achieve times that would put them in the top eight finishers internationally in that event.

Examples of the specific level of challenge presented by the 'A' level times are illustrated by the fact that Troyden Prinsloo set a new SA record of 7:54.99 in the 800 metres freestyle, but failed to swim the 'A' standard qualifying mark of 7:52.92 which would have allowed him to qualify for the world championship. Similarly, Leone Vorster broke Melissa Corfe’s 200 metres freestyle South African record but failed to swim a level 'A' qualifying time.
Despite the challenge, 19 swimmers qualified to participate in Italy. Gratifyingly a significant number of these were relatively new kids on the blocks - from an international competition point of departure at any rate – illustrating that there is really a solid pool of swimming talent (no pun intended) in South Africa. Names like Sebastien Rousseau, Jasper Venter, Charl van Zyl, Riaan Schoeman, Graeme Moore and Chad le Clos are set to become synonymous with national and international swimming achievement over the next few years.

In a nutshell
That is all good news so what is the problem?
The problem in a nutshell is that despite the fact that they had a key opportunity to display good governance, SSA has once again displayed a lack of transparency, has elected to communicate with the press prior to - and even instead of - communicating with the swimmers and coaches, has failed to make good on the (redefined) undertakings provided (in the media) related to making known the final team to represent South Africa at the world championships and has, ultimately, once again in a magnificent display of disregard, managed to throw a toffee at the swimmers who gave their all to achieve and show excellence.
So what is the problem you ask again? 

The qualifying times were known to all swimmers beforehand. The swimmers who didn’t make it knew exactly why they hadn’t. All tremendously transparent - as it should be – you may say.

Well judge for yourself. 

After the last race at the national championships and the various award presentations, each world championship ‘team member’ was called out with sufficient ceremony and presented to the world so to speak. Each of the 19 swimmers was duly congratulated and, especially the new kids went off in a cloud of euphoria. 

However, the very next day an article by Marizanne Kok on SuperSport quoted the SSA president Jace Naidoo as redefining the criteria for being part of this team. This article provides retrospective information not previously transparently conveyed to the swimmers or their coaches that the costs of only 14 swimmers for Rome will be covered. In addition Naidoo is quoted as saying that: “It is stated in our criteria for Rome that those who don’t make the top 14 according to the FINA points system can still go to the world championship if they finance themselves.”
I say again that despite the fact that it had been hoped that the Commission of Enquiry would pave the way for improved future relations between the Federation and the swimmers it, sadly, has not. Note here that I am not criticising the findings of the Commission. The Commission Report only provided direction and what should ideally be implemented. Even if the Report and its recommendations had been fully accepted by SSA (and we don’t even have full knowledge of what they have and what they haven’t) and they intend implementing each and every single one of the recommendations significant legitimate questions remain.

Shoot itself in the foot

This includes why essential issues such as transparent and accountable communication which could have been put in place by the stroke of a pen or an altered standard operating procedure appear still to be absent (such as transparently communicating about selection for world champs).
Ultimately, for how long will SSA continue to shoot itself in the foot and for how long will the SSA Executive Committee be willing to tolerate mediocrity and a lack of accountability? Do you want to wait until every single sponsor pulls out? When will the message get through? Come on Swimming South Africa - it isn’t brain surgery. We are all willing to buckle down and help get the act together. You cannot continue telling us that this and that committee or structure is being formed or offer tentative statements that we ‘must get together’. The existence of committees and structures are only meaningful if they ensure good governance. Intention without follow through is as incapable of achieving results as a swimmer who dreams of achieving 'A' qualification times while sun tanning next to the swimming pool. We have work to do. Let’s just do it.
Remember – the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

Roland is a multiple Olympic medal winner... and an avid Blue Bulls supporter.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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