Author: Athletics Results

Where have all the young women gone?

“Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?
Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?
Where have all the young girls gone?
Gone for husbands everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?”

That was the question asked by Peter, Mary and Paul in 1962.  In 2018 we can ask the question of Athletics South Africa: Where have all the young women gone?

Despite the constitutional imperative to right the wrongs of the past and not discriminate on the grounds of gender, it is something not taken seriously in South African Athletics.

The 2018 SA Commonwealth Games team was announced recently and out of 13 athletes selected, only 3 are women. That just 23% of the team. This was followed shortly by the announcement of the South African team to the African Cross Country Championships. Of the senior athletes, 8 were selected and only 2 are women. That’s 25% of the team.

As usual, a full junior women’s team was selected, and the argument will probably be made that it is ‘planning for the future’. But were have all the young girls from 2017, 2016, 2015, etc gone? Not to the senior ranks, that is for sure. What is to say 2018 will be any different?

This pattern plays out across the country at provincial level too. There are very few senior women athletes left and those that are there face insurmountable obstacles.

Unfortunately, Athletics South Africa seems to put its quest for glory ahead of addressing this issue. The requirement to put in place programmes to promote gender equity is simply ignored. The attitude seems to be that South Africa women are inferior and should be overlooked. There can be no other explanation for selecting only two women (and thereby not even making up a full team).

That is unfair to women who are trying their best without any official support and often artificial obstacles placed in their way by misogynist administrators.

Given this attitude, don’t be surprised when the powers that be stop selecting women at all. It would probably leave more space for administrators to go on holiday with the teams.

Oh, when will they ever learn?

TCN Coaching Clinics: February 2018

HOT SUMMER MIDDLE DISTANCE RACING CLINICS!

 

Clinic 1 – Friday, 16 February 2018: Preparing For Race Day

Clinic 2 – Friday, 23 February 2018: Preparing On Race Day

 

Main Presenter:     James Frazer

Where:                    Green Point Athletics Stadium

Time:                      16:00-19:00

Who:                       Any Track Athletes Racing from 800m upwards and Middle Distance Coaches who focus on Track

What to Bring:       Be ready to run, Pen and Paper to take notes, a water bottle, hat, suntan lotion

Cost:                        R75 for one clinic, R100 for both.

 

What Will We Cover:

Clinic 1: Preparing For Race Day

Focus On The Last Few Days Prior To The Race – What Should You Do In Training? Eat? Sleep?

 

Clinic 2: Preparing On Race Day

The Warm Up, Racing, Recovery And Learning From What Works / Mistakes Made.

 

For more details contact: jvfrazer007@gmail.com

 

To sign up:

Both Clinics

16 February 2018 Only

23 February 2018 Only

 

Is the KZNA fight about egos?

So, now that the facts are becoming clearer, it is more obvious that the dispute in KwaZulu Natal is about settling old scores between individuals and not so much about what is good for the sport.

The attached court papers show us that (a) KZNA is seeking to stop an area of KwaZulu Natal forming its own athletics federation and affiliating to ASA; and (b) there is bad blood between Aleck Skhosana and Sello Mokoena.

KZNA v ASA Court Papers (1)

KZNA v ASA Court Papers (2)

To understand this properly, we need to backtrack a bit and remember some facts.

During 2011 members of KZNA approached Athletics South Africa with evidence of serious financial irregularities in the affairs of KZNA, then run by Skhosana. Just one project alone was audited and irregularities to the value of close to R100 000 were discovered. Skhosana was then a member of the ASA board and was instructed to investigate and report to the board. He did not. At the end of 2011 ASA reported the matter to the SA Police in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act 12 of 2004, since that Act requires persons in authority to report corruption. Skhosana himself did not report the matter in terms of the Act.

In 2012 KZNA held an AGM to elect new office bearers. Due to the volume of complaints received from KZNA members, ASA sent its then CEO to oversee the election process. After a lot of politicking about who were actual members of KZNA or not, that was resolved and elections were held. Aleck Skhosana lost the election for president of KZNA to Sello Mokoena.

Later in 2012 the KZNA government completed a forensic report which made several damning findings against several persons, including against Skhosana. It stated that no action could be taken against him by the athletics authorities, as he was no longer an office-bearer. However, it did not explain why this did not apply if he was a licenced member of KZNA (which one has to assume as he had stood for election).

Mokoena took no further action on any of the information at the disposal of the new KZNA board.

Then, in 2013, Mokoena’s KZNA opposed a proposal to amend the ASA constitution to bring it in line with the Nasional Sport and Recreation Plan, which had been accepted by all federations (including ASA) at the Sports Indaba in 2011. The relevant provisions related to changing the boundaries of sports federations to reflect the geo-political boundaries in South Africa.

To explain, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa provides for nine provinces, each with their own provincial administration. Under those provinces there is local government, which is divided up into 52 districts (strictly speaking 8 metros and 44 district councils). See the list of Local Government Councils in South Africa

The relevance of this move was to streamline funding. Provincial government has funding for sport, as does local government. The Constitution provides that provincial government has exclusive competence over provincial sport and concurrent jurisdiction over local sports facilities. One District or Municipal Council cannot fund activities in another District or Municipality.

However, ASA has desperately clung to the old ‘provincial’ boundaries, which have their origins in the apartheid era. So, we still have ‘Central Gauteng’ (CGA) which largely mirrors the boundaries of the old Southern Transvaal. But CGA covers two Metros (Ekhuruleni and Johannesburg) and the West Rand District. If you organise an event in Germiston (in Ekhuruleni) you can’t ask Johannesburg (which includes Soweto) to help fund it. None of them can legally fund a CGA team, as they may be funding athletes resident in another District or Metro.

In the Western Cape, we have Western Province, Boland and South Western Districts according to ASA, but the Constitution recognises Cape Town, West Coast, Overberg, Cape Winelands, Central Karoo and Eden. So local government again is limited in what funding it can given, other than to events directly in their area.

In short, there is no logical basis for the geographical boundaries in Athletics in South Africa. ASA has 17 ‘provinces’, South Africa has nine provinces. That should say enough.

Since there is no legal or financial basis for retaining the old apartheid model (which still recognises Transkei as a separate unit), why is it still in place after all of these years and why the vociferous opposition to the proposal to change (in a different article, the events of 2013 and 2014 will be explained) to the Sports Indaba instruction?

Simple: Empires. In most areas of South Africa, athletics has died. For example, ‘Border’ (ie the area named after the old colonial ‘border’ with Transkei) has all but collapsed. It does not send athletes to national championships anymore, other than one or two occasionally. It does not consistently hold track & field provincial championships. But it exists and has a vote, and has a president who will rule for life. Transkei Athletics is a sham. It was being investigated in late 2012 for serious financial irregularities, an ASA office report at the time indicated that it was effectively being run as a personal business of one or two individuals, with no financial systems in place. The list goes on (and it will all be disclosed). If the Sports Indaba model was introduced these units would disappear and the emperors would lose their thrones. ‘Border’ for instance, would break up into two or three different new unions or federations and Border, Eastern Province and Transkei would disappear to become Eastern Cape (something that the ASA Council had decided on by 2009 already). All the emperors would have to stand down and compete in a bigger pool.

So what has this to do with KZNA. KZNA already reflects the political boundaries of KwaZulu Natal. But that is only at provincial level. It does not have district members, only clubs. So all a president needs to do is get the clubs of Durban to support him and the rest is easy. It is not difficult to see how one district in KZNA (eThekwini) rules the rest, as it will have the most clubs and members. There is no doubt that only 2 or maybe 3 districts out of 11 in KZN are active in the activities of KZNA, other than at school level. No doubt Mokoena will point to isolated projects or clubs, but there is no sustainable athletics in the majority of the districts of KZN.

If the emperor had accepted the new model proposed in 2012, which meant that KZNA would be made up of 11 districts, with the clubs affiliating to the districts, he stood the risk of having to garner votes from 11 districts, most of which he was doing nothing for, and not only getting the majority of the Durban clubs to vote for him. And teams would represent districts, not ‘provinces’ so individual emperors would not be able to boast to each other about how many medals ‘they’ had won. Being a ‘provincial’ president did not seem as attractive anymore and thus had to be opposed at all costs.

So, let’s come back to the current dispute. You have two parties – ASA and KZNA – who are both vehemently opposed to rearranging the boundaries in athletics. One is lead by Skhosana, who knows Mokoena and KZNA could alter his destiny by pursuing the corruption issue from when Skhosana ran KZNA. The other is lead by Mokoena, who seems to have run out of friends and who knows that Skhosana has every reason to want to remove him.

We have seen why ‘provincial’ presidents don’t want to change the boundaries, as their empires would collapse.

Why is ASA against it? Because they control the vast majority of ‘provinces’ and are propping up tame presidents who will do what they are told. Add to that, the power brokers in South African athletics – Boland Athletics, who have no interest whatsoever in a new dispensation, as they would cease to exist and would split into Overberg and Cape Winelands. Not only would they cease to exist but someone may start scratching in their books and find if there is any truth the allegations which were made in 2012. If uMgungundlovu is allowed to join ASA as a member, what is to stop any other District or Metro applying to be a member?

So, ASA are unlikely to ever accept a new District becoming a full member of ASA.

Throw into the mix uMgungundlovu, who want to implement the National Sports Plan by being a district union or federation and you have the fuse which is going to ignite the war between Skhosana and Mokoena, dragging their federations into court. All because Mokoena thinks ASA might recognise uMgungundlovu, which is unlikely to ever happen.

To summarise – this fight is about egos. Not about athletics or athletes, but administrators with huge big egos.

The beginning of the end for KZNA?

This is how it all starts. The statement from the CEO of ASA.

Anyone who has been around in the sport of Athletics (or any sport for that matter) in South Africa for a while will identify the signs immediately. It is merely a matter of time, but Sello Mokoena and his KwaZulu Natal Athletics board are dead men (and women) walking.

What I am talking about is the recent media release from Athletics South Africa, which is full of invective against KZNA (see the link above). If one was naïve and read this completely without context, it would seem that KZNA is a hotbed of political agitation against ASA, while at the same time it is destroying the sport in the province, which requires the strong hand of the national federation to step in an remove the trouble makers. If the statement is to be believed, the other 16 provinces, off their own bat, decided that enough was enough and KZNA should be called to order for attacking their beloved federation and the ASA board.

Based on this, the next step is to pile pressure of KZNA by setting up a commission of enquiry, which will find serious wrongdoing on the part of the KZNA board. Because of this, they will be removed by ASA and a new ‘interim’ board will be inserted in their place. The current board will receive lengthy suspensions from the sport, which will neutralise them and stop them sowing their anarchist views. If they fight back, there will be people set up in the province to undermine them from the inside.

It has happened before. It happened to Abrie de Swardt at South Western Districts. It happened to so many people in Eastern Province it is difficult to name all of them. There are examples in so many provinces. Nothing new, and within a month or two Mokoena and his board will be consigned to history and all the other provinces will be quick to jump in to sing the praises of ASA and its leadership for getting rid of this ‘cancer’ in the sport. Mostly because they are scared they will be next.

It’s the way it has always been.

However, it should not be. Not in 2017 and not in South Africa.

At the same time as the courts are managing to keep South Africa together by consistently applying the Constitution without fear or favour, it seems that everywhere else no-one cares about the law or the Bill of Rights.

Let’s start with some basic legal facts: Athletics South Africa is a company (a Non Profit company). It is bound by the Companies Act of 2008.

Why is that relevant?

For two reasons. Firstly, ASA does not actually have a ‘constitution’. It has a Memorandum of Incorporation (MOI). The MOI is a essentially the constitution of the company, but with one major difference. It is assumed (incorrectly, but that is for another article) that the basis of a voluntary association is a contract – the members agree to abide by the constitution as if they were entering into a contract. So if the constitution says the members must jump, then they must jump. However, with a company, the MOI does not work that way. A company cannot tell its members what to do, the members tell the company what to do. At best, all a company can do  is to terminate the membership of the member who ‘misbehaves’ (at least with an NPC if the MOI allows it; with a profit company this is not possible). So, a company cannot place a member under ‘administration’ unless there is a provision in the member’s (ie KZNA) constitution permitting this (even then it would be debateable).

Secondly, in terms of the Companies Act, the company is accountable to its members. They are not only permitted to question the financial status of the company, it can be argued that they are obliged to do so. It must be viewed with extreme suspicion when a board of a company refuses to make financial statements available and to answer questions about them. If there is nothing to hide, the company would answer them.

The Bill of Rights also guarantees the right of freedom of expression. That means that no-one can be punished for expressing their opinions (provided they don’t step over the line into defamation).

The ASA statement says that: “Further, the Council said they also want the Task Team to probe media reports emanating from Board Members of KZNA which the Council deemed not to be in line with the constitutional protocols of ASA.”

Now, a Google search doesn’t show any media reports emanating from KZNA in the recent past. Nor does the ASA constitution provide for any ‘protocol’ for office-bearers of members of ASA when speaking to the media. Most importantly, what about the freedom of expression, a constitutional right?

Then it states that: “The sequence of events of the day followed the earlier barring of a co-opted KZNA delegate to the Special General Meeting (SGM) which preceded the Council Meeting. The ASA refusal was deemed in line with the constitution of the national federation. KZNA had two delegates, one of which was eligible to participate. The delegate allowed, declined to participate and stayed out of the entire session of the SGM.”

There is nothing at all in the MOI of ASA or in the Companies Act which permits the ASA as a company to determine who may represent a member (ie KZNA). It is fair for the company to ask if the person is authorised to represent the member, but once that is established there is no right for ASA to decide who the representatives may be. In any event, the Companies Act allows for proxies (see s 58), and this cannot be altered by the MOI – in other words the company (in this case ASA) has to comply with the Act.

One of the fundamental problems is that, despite being a company, ASA’s ‘constitution’ (ie MOI) does not comply with the Companies Act. Before it picks on its members for their constitutions, maybe it should get their own house in order.

Unfortunately, KwaZulu Natal Athletics are the authors of their own misfortune. In 2013, when the Companies Act came into full effect, a proposal was made to amend the ASA MOI to comply with the Companies Act (and also the National Sport and Recreation Plan) but KZNA was the most vociferous opponent. Had the ASA MOI been amended then, none of the pain it is going to suffer would have happened.

But, one may ask, why the sudden attack on KZNA?

One can only guess, but does it maybe have something to do with the fact that the IAAF Ethics Commission (the predecessor the Athletics Integrity Unit, and which is still dealing with matters predating the AIU) has been looking into the reports of financial irregularities before 2012 after someone in KZN reported it to them? Or are the police at last investigating the matter which was reported to them in early 2012 in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act 12 of 2004? The report compiled by the KZN Government in 2012 shows clear evidence of fraud and forgery and that documents were signed by the previous leadership of KZNA which was false. Has KZNA realised that its failure to act on the evidence of fraud and corruption renders them liable to prosecution on terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act and now they are taking action?

One has to ask why KZNA did not act on this earlier.

We can only guess what motivates the ASA statement.

But one thing that is certain, if the pattern is followed which was used so often in the past, the current board of KZNA will disappear into to oblivion in the near future. The current leadership of ASA (which is largely the same people as were involved before 2009) does not put out statements like the one it did if it does not intend dire consequences for the target. ASA’s stance is too drastic for it to be able to back down and not lose face.

How does KZNA now react? We will soon know how courageous they are.

Who is Making the Decisions?

In 2008 South African company law underwent a major change. Why is this relevant to the sport of Athletics?

Quite simple really, the national federation in South Africa was incorporated as a company under section 21 of the old Companies Act in 2006. It’s registration number is Reg No 2006/034767/08.

In 2008 a new Companies Act (No 71 of 2008) was passed. It radically changed the way in which companies are regulated. Some of the major changes were that certain provisions are automatically applicable to a company, unless expressly excluded, and some can’t even be excluded. It also changed the old name of “Association incorporated under s 21” to Non-Profit Companies (NPCs). It made certain provisions applicable to NPCs.

But the Act was not brought into effect until 2011, which happened on 1 May that year. Crucially, certain transitional arrangements were included, which gave companies two years to comply with the new Act. So, by 1 May 2013 all companies had to fully comply with the Act.

Still, how does that affect the sport of Athletics?

Athletics South Africa NPC’s constitution were the Articles of Association in terms of the old Act. (Interestingly, the Articles filed with CIPC are not the same as the constitution, but that for another time. Let’s take it, as everyone always has, that the constitution was the Articles of Association.) Now this part gets a bit complicated, so bear with us. In terms of the new Act the Articles of Association became the Memorandum of Incorporation (MOI). Until 1 May 2013, if there was a clash between the Act and the MOI, the MOI won. After 1 May 2013, the Act wins.

Now, to clear up something else. The Act is very specific. Only certain other laws trump the Companies Act. These are:
• Auditing Profession Act, 2006;
• Labour Relations Act, 1995;
• Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000;
• Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, 2000;
• Public Finance Management Act, 1999;
• Securities Services Act, 2004;
• Banks Act, 1990.
Why this is relevant is that no-where does the Act provide that the constitution or MOI of another organisation (ie SASCOC) can override the Companies Act, nor does the National Sport and Recreation Act override the Companies Act.

Again, why is this important?

For the following reasons:

Section 4 of Schedule 1 says:
“If the Memorandum of Incorporation of a non-profit company provides for the company to have members, it—
(a) must not restrict or regulate, or provide for any restriction or regulation of, that membership in any
manner that amounts to unfair discrimination in terms of section 9 of the Constitution;
(b) must not presume the membership of any person, regard a person to be a member, or provide for the automatic
or ex officio membership of any person, on any basis other than life-time membership awarded to a person—
(i) for service to the company or to the public benefit objects set out in the company’s Memorandum of
Incorporation; and
(ii) with that person’s consent.”

Put in plain English: You can no longer have ex officio members of Athletics South Africa, nor can anyone become a member of Athletics South Africa automatically (you have to join). The effect is this: Office Bearers can no longer be regarded as members of Athletics South Africa, unless they are members in their own right – ie they have joined as a member (keep in mind that other than officer bearers and honorary members, ASA does not have individuals as members).

So since 1 May 2013, office bearers are no longer members of ASA.

Section 5 of Schedule 1 says:
‘(1) If a non-profit company has members, the Memorandum of Incorporation must—
(a) set out the basis on which the members choose the directors of the company; and
(b) if any directors are to be elected by the voting members, provide for the election each year of at
least one-third of those elected directors.

ASA has members, so this provision applies. What it expressly states is the MOI must set out the basis on which members chose the directors (ie board members). Since board members can no longer be regarded as members of ASA in terms of s 4 of Schedule 1, they can’t participating in choosing who the directors are. So any election, since 1 May 2013, where board members (or any other office bearers – eg members of commissions) participated in the election, has been invalid.

And s 5(1)(b) of Schedule 1 is also a problem: In terms of the Act, the MOI must (as in has to) provide for the election of at least 1/3 of the elected members. In other words, every year 1/3 of the ASA board has to stand down and either be re-elected or new directors have to be elected. The days of a slate remaining in power for four years ended in 2013.

Athletics South Africa NPC has not amended its MOI, as required by the Act. It is thus in breach of the Act. However, it is not good enough to say, whoops, we didn’t do it but who cares. The Act is specific, where there is a conflict between the Act and the MOI, the Act takes precedence. In many aspects, the Act deems the MOI to have been amended (more on that at a later date).

For now, let’s concentrate on two aspects: Board (and commission) members are no longer members of ASA. The Act is clear on that. So they can’t vote as members and if they have, they have tainted that election.

And one third of the board has to be re-elected every year. If that hasn’t been happening, the Act has been breached and people are sitting as board members in breach of the law.

How is that relevant to the sport of Athletics: When the board of ASA decided to omit athletes from the team to the recent IAAF World Championships, were they acting legally?

It would seem not.

 

Development: Are we being honest with ourselves

Development is a hot topic in South African sport. For a long time the concepts of ‘development’ and ‘transformation’ were intertwined, so it was not possible to deal with one, without dealing with the other. And it created bizarre terminology: People were too scared to use the language of apartheid, so instead of saying an athlete was ‘black’ they became a ‘development athlete’.

The absurdity of this became apparent to anyone outsider when a runner would win a major race and be called a ‘development runner’.

For now, let’s leave the issues of transformation aside (that is for a different time, as it is a very problematic area – much needs to be done, but it won’t be while people are using ‘transformation’ to push their own personal agendas). Let’s look at the current success of development programmes. Or the lack of success….

Some starting points are needed, however. The following assumptions will be used in this series of posts:

  1.  Development should be about creating an interest in the sport, such at the athlete chooses athletics as their sport of choice.
  2.  Development is meant to be teaching the athlete the skills needed to be able to do the best that they can do when they reach their peak.
  3. Any human being will be at their physical peak between the ages of around 20-35. In all sports this is when sportspeople perform at their best. Accordingly, development programmes should have as their apex this age group as the measure of success at earlier ages.
  4. For most athletes, from 35 onwards their performance starts to decline. They will remain competitive in their age groups, but only those who have not competed when they are younger will expect to actually improve at any stage once they hit the Masters categories. Development therefore has less of a role to play in the Masters categories. (Note the use of the word ‘less’. It still has a role to play.)
  5. There are outliers who will always create exceptions to the rule. So an 18-year old may be competitive at the Olympics and have a long athletics career, just as a 40-year-old could medal at the Olympics. But they are not the norm.
  6. Success of development is measured in (a) performance at the top level and (b) an increase in depth of performance and numbers at a senior level.

To then measure whether current thinking and attitudes are correct, let’s start with a simple and basic part of the sport: Cross Country. It is the cheapest and easiest part of the sport to organise. Have an open field and you can put together a course. It is often (mistakenly) taken as the starting point for development for distance events on the track and road (mistakenly, as cross country is a discipline in its own right).

Due to the tireless efforts of Ben and Elsa Oliver, results of Western Province (ie Cape Town) cross country races are accurate and available. (The sport in Cape Town owes a lot to the two of them, and they are not appreciated nearly enough.) There is also reason to believe that what is happening in Cape Town is playing out in the rest of South Africa. The attached spreadsheet has data of all WP Cross Country League and Championship races since 2011. The numbers are the total participants in those events.

Participation at WP Cross Country 2011-2017

Let’s analyse just one aspect, to see if Western Province has been getting development right, or if it is doing the exact opposite (ie chasing people away from the sport).

If one looks at the current u20 age group, we can trace them back in two year batches to when they were u13 in 2011. (This is slightly flawed, because the age group covers 18- and 19-year-olds so they may not have been together since 2011, but the trends remain the same even if you look at the current 18-year-olds.).

These are the average league participation levels of this group of athletes (WP does not have u16 and u14 categories at leagues, only at championships):

2011 (u13):  boys: 35  girls: 27

2013 (u15): boys: 57 girls: 24

2015 (u18): boys: 44 girls: 12

2017 (u20): boys 18 girls: 6

At a glance, we will see that apart from an increase in the boys from u13 to u15, fewer and fewer athletes are participating as they get older.

It is so dire, that by the time the girls get to u20 level, less than a quarter are still taking part. Deeper analysis would need to be done to work out if any of the girls who took part at u13 level in 2011 are still participating in 2017.

If it was a case that there are only 18 or 6 (respectively) left but they are the best in the country, then it could be argued that quantity has been sacrificed for quality. Without knocking the athletes (as the system has actually let them down), that is not the case – WP does not have a good history of success at SA Cross Country champs in the u20 category. After all, when only six athletes are racing each other each week (sometimes it is as few as three), what are their chances of competing successfully at the highest level in the absence of really good coaching.

And if we look at the numbers in the u15, u18 and u20 category, there has been a sharp decline among the girls, while the boys has remained fairly steady.

Food for thought, but given these statistics, it is hard to say that any development programme which uses cross country as part of it has been a success. It is probably close to the truth to say it has failed.

Why The Obsession With Honour or Glory?

It is not hard to see where athletics in South Africa is going wrong. It is quite simple: The emphasis is in all the wrong places.

There was an article on the IOL website entitled: SA students fall short at World University Games. Clearly, the impression is that they failed. They won five medals at a highly competitive competition, ahead of countries like the United Kingdom, Spain, New Zealand,etc. But apparently they failed.

But is the medals table the real test of success? Is sport really about only those three places (and who decided that only three get medals)? The women’s football team finished 4th, an outstanding achievement, but consigned to failure because they didn’t win a medal.

We should be taking our hats off to University Sport South Africa, because they gave students a chance to gain experience at this level. If we were objective about what we are trying to achieve in the long term, we would thank them for filling that role. The World Students Games cannot be about who wins on the medal table. There are too many other factors – just one being who classifies as a student.

No, surely it is about giving these students the experience that they can go on to putting into practice in future in sport, as participants or coaches, or in life in general.

ASA’s SELECTION POLICY

Which brings us back to where athletics has got it wrong. Look at the following on the Athletics South Africa website:

“Question: What are the main, and perhaps the only reason for sending teams to represent Athletics South Africa at any competition?
Answer: To send teams to bring back honour to South Africa.

Honour can only be achieved through top class performances. So for us in athletics, honour will be reflected primarily in the number of medals we achieve at any competition.”

MEANING OF THE WORD ‘HONOUR’

This is mind boggling. We are chasing “honour”. What does this mean?

The Collins English Dictionary describes it as follows:

“1. uncountable noun: Honour means doing what you believe to be right and being confident that you have done what is right.

 Synonyms: integrityprinciplesmoralityhonesty
 2. countable noun: An honour is a special award that is given to someone, usually because they have done something good or because they are greatly respected.
Synonyms: titleawarddistinctionaccolade
 3. verb [usually passive]: If someone is honoured, they are given public praise or an award for something they have done.
Synonyms: acclaimcelebratepraisedecorate
 4. singular noun: If you describe doing or experiencing something as an honour, you mean you think it is something special and desirable.
Synonyms: privilegecreditfavourpleasure
 5. passive verb: If you say that you would be honoured to do something, you are saying very politely and formally that you would be pleased to do it. If you say that you are honoured by something, you are saying that you are grateful for it and pleased about it.
 6. verb: To honour someone means to treat them or regard them with special attention and respect.
 7. verb: If you honour an arrangement or promise, you do what you said you would do.
 8. uncountable noun [usually NOUN noun]: Honours is a type of university degree which is of a higher standard than a pass or ordinary degree.
 9. countable noun: Judges, and mayors in the United States, are sometimes called your honour or referred to as his honour or her honour.

 

WHERE IS THE ‘HONOUR’?

It is hard to see how winning a medal brings honour to South Africa. Are we more respected as a country because Wayde van Niekerk wins a medal? Do other countries praise us because of this? When you visit Istanbul, will people stop when they hear you are from South Africa and praise you because Wayde won a medal? Did the UN General Assembly give us a standing ovation when Caster won a medal? No.

Maybe in the days of the Greek City States or the Empires of the 19th and 20th Centuries was there a concept of ‘honour’ being attached to sporting performance. Maybe ASA is still chasing after colonial glory?

WHERE ARE THE FUTURE ATHLETES TO BRING US ‘HONOUR’?
If we take the first meaning of honour, then we should be more interested in producing honourable people. And that has nothing to do with winning medals. Surely the following is really the test for success or not of a team. The big renta-crowd at the airport is irrelevant. Let’s look at what happens in the next few months:
  • Does the fact that Wayde won a medal mean more people take up the sport? Of course it does. But the way Wayde conducts himself also means that lots of parents want their kids to do the sport, because they like the fact that you can be great and a decent person. The fact that Caster makes a point of congratulating everyone in her race definitely inspires others to do the same.
  • Then the 16-year-old kid decides to take up the sport, to become the new Wayde, Caster, Luvo, etc. And what happens? They can’t find a local club, because so few still cater for track & field. But, even if they stick it out, they will come up against so many obstacles – only a handful of provinces have provincial track & field championships, some don’t send athletes to SA Champs. But the kid still sticks it out, then hits ASA’s selection standards and realises that playing Ultimate Frisbee is far easier, with less politics, and drops out.
  • Soon, we find that the hint for honour (they probably mean glory) has meant such strict standards that if you are not world class by 20 you may as well give up. And many will. Or they definitely will after university. So the pool gets smaller. Until there is no replacement when Wayde retires.

Compare this to the Poles. If you watched the World Championships they seemed to have someone in nearly every final. The same at the Summer Universiade. They may not have any world record holders, but they certainly have a very wide and a very deep base. From that base will come the next two or three generations of athletes and some will go on to win medals. They will never have to hope and pray that Wayde or Caster don’t catch a cold.

REALITY CHECK

As for honour, if we want honour then we don’t need controversy. The whole world knows that South Africa left athletes at home. The whole world knows that administrators and their girlfriends went to the World Champs while the athletes stayed at home. The whole world knows that we selected an athlete because he was an area champion, despite the fact he had been stripped of that title. (Luvo Manyonga – not the athlete in question – is actually a shining example of a guy who did the right thing – made a big mistake, admitted it, got on with is life and rebuilt his athletics career. There was never a question that he was trying to get an athletic advantage, it was a lifestyle issue which he has turned around. Others have been given an easy ride back from far more serious situations.)

Maybe Athletics South Africa should take the doping issues in South Africa more seriously and the fact that on the ground the sport, especially track & field and cross country, is shrinking every year more seriously and try to build a bigger base from where the next generation of stars will come.

At this rate, when Wayde, Luvo and Caster retire we will be in serious trouble.

Has Athletics Gone Mad?

What has happened to the sport of athletics, one of the most pure of all sports?

Let’s start at the very beginning. We don’t know for certain how the sport really began, but we can surmise. Two guys argued about who was the faster of the two. So they had a race. Then guys argued about whether one was faster than the other but they couldn’t race against each other, so they found a distance they knew was correct (this is way before tape measures could be bought in a shop, and GPS would have been considered as magic), which was the mile mark on the road outside the village. The one guy in the village with a hand watch timed it.

And so the sport would have grown. To army men probably argued about who could heave a cannonball further, so they had a competition, and we have the birth of shot put (ending with the massive 16 pound ball we use today).

It was pure and simple, who was the better. No administrators, no complex rules, nothing.

Then, the more people got involved, the more we really wanted to know who was the best. Mainly because then people could gamble it. But, if the competitors could get paid, they might rig the result. So, let’s make the sport amateur (there is also the aristocratic element to this, in that it keeps the working class in their place).

So rules were developed. But these were pure rules. 100m is 100m (not 99.5m). Everyone had to start together so we evolved the start we have today. Then we needed to know who won, so they put a tape across the line. But who really wins, does it help to throw your hand forward? So we have the rule as to the torso having to cross the line.

And the rules got progressively clearer as time passed and technology made it easier to assist. To the extent that we have cameras which can time to 1000th of a second (but interestingly, unlike swimming, we prejudice the athlete furthest away from the gun, who hears the signal from the gun last).

But the rules remained about validity of the performance. Was the race run over 100m? If not, the race is valid, but it can’t be recorded as being a 100m race. If an athlete is allowed to false start, it is not a valid performance and can’t be used to compare to other athletes.

Then the sport became about entertainment. So people wanted to know who was running. The answer was to give the athlete a number and to give the spectators a programme with the names next to the numbers. Makes absolute sense. That’s not about validity of performances, it’s about the presentation of the sport as entertainment.

Then we arrive at 2017 in South Africa….

Athletes can now cut corners in races (even track races!), then can do just about anything which impacts on the validity of performances but they will not be disqualified or their performances rendered invalid.

But woe betide the runner who does not wear his number. Even when the number has no relevance as there is no programme and no-one can identify the runner from his number, if he does not wear it, he will be disqualified, and probably fined too.

We have had a national marathon champion, who won by minutes, disqualified because his number fell off his back. He ran the correct route, he did not cheat, but he wasn’t wearing his back number!

Recreational runners, who are not going to affect the competitive side of the race at all, are called aside after they have run their first half marathon, proud of their achievement. They are then shouted at by an official and disqualified from the results, because they wore the number the were given on their back rather than their front.

If you asked someone not involved with the sport what they would think of the situation that you can cheat but not be disqualified, but you run the correct distance and don’t obstruct anyone else, and you get disqualified for wearing a number which is not used to identify you, they would say it is crazy.

And they would be correct. The sport of athletics in South Africa has gone mad.