Johannesburg - Wayde van Niekerk’s agent has branded Athletics SA (ASA) a bunch of clowns for their role in the developing impasse over whether the country’s top sprinters will attend the national championships or the world relay championships late next month.
The SA Senior National Championships are scheduled to take place in Potchefstroom on April 21 and 22, which is the same weekend the IAAF’s World Relay Championships will take place in the Bahamas.
ASA, whose planning – or lack thereof – scuppered the possibility of South Africa entering a 4x100m relay team at the Olympics in Rio last year, appears to be overcompensating by insisting that the country’s leading sprinters skip the national champs in favour of the relays.
But the athletes – four of whom have run the 100m in less than 10 seconds and three having run sub-20s for the 200m – are keen to turn up in Potch to race one another in what promises to be the most hotly contested national titles in the history of South African sprinting, so they’ve started movement on Twitter – #FillUpPotch – to generate hype for the event.
An irate Peet van Zyl, who represents Van Niekerk, Akani Simbine, Henricho Bruintjies and 110m hurdler Antonio Alkana, criticised ASA for indicating that it expects the selected athletes to be in the Bahamas instead.
“They cry because they can’t find sponsors, but when these boys [sprinters] want to put together a good 100m and 200m event to attract sponsors, they refuse. Nobody’s going to wake up at 2am to watch the world relays – only very committed athletics fans will do that,” he said.
“But everyone wants to watch these boys race – just imagine the press conference ahead of the national champs after all their banter on Twitter. How can ASA say the national champs is a small meeting? They’re a bunch of clowns.”
Van Zyl was responding to ASA president Aleck Skhosana’s remarks on eNCA recently, where he said: “Those athletes who are identified and those who are confirmed will be expected to represent the country and skip the SA champs.
“ASA doesn’t prepare athletes for the SA champs. Athletes always want to be where it’s easy to excel ... the country comes before provinces or a small competition like the SA champs.”
The burning question about the clash of dates is why it was allowed to happen in the first place.
“We told ASA in November already that it must consider moving the national champs,” said Van Zyl. “It could have moved the national champs forward and selected the best guys from there to run in the world relays.
“The IAAF couldn’t believe it when I told it we have nationals on the same day as the world relay champs.”
Asked what reason ASA – whose president did not respond to City Press’ calls for comment on the situation – had given for not changing the date of the national champs, Van Zyl said it had not given one, despite being told in “November already that my guys would not be available”.
Van Zyl also said he did not know what ASA’s reaction would be towards athletes who passed up the trip to the Bahamas to go to Potch.
Should the top sprinters go to the Bahamas in the end, about half of the national champs’ programme would be impoverished, quality wise, with the 100m, 200m, 400m sprints and the 400m hurdles fields affected. The women’s 800m would also be affected as Caster Semenya is expected to run a leg of the 4x400m relay.
For example, if everything was to go according to plan, the 100m final would feature Simbine (9.89), newcomer Thando Roto (9.95), Bruintjies (9.97), Van Niekerk (9.98), Anaso Jobodwana (10.10) and youngsters Gift Leotlela (10.12) and Clarence Munyai (10.20).
The developing spat will overshadow what has been a sensational domestic season.
This season has seen long jumper Luvo Manyonga smash the South Africa and Africa records with his 8.62m jump; Simbine go sub-20 (19.95) in the 200m; Roto become the fifth South African to run a sub-10 for the 100m; Leotlela become the South African junior record holder (10.12); and 17-year-old Sokwakhana Zazini set a new Under-18 world record in the 400m hurdles (48.84).