That mo­ment when ASA takes ath­letes’ credit

CityPress - - Sport - Simnikiwe Xabanisa sports@city­ Fol­low me on Twit­ter

On Tues­day, an in­nocu­ous-look­ing email from Ath­let­ics SA (ASA) landed in the old in­box, not so much with a no­ti­fi­ca­tion as it did with a thud.

Said mis­sive was the oblig­a­tory back-slap­ping ex­pected after a na­tional cham­pi­onships in which Akani Sim­bine and Wayde van Niek­erk won the 100m and 200m with times of 9.95 sec­onds and 19.90 sec­onds, re­spec­tively, and Luvo Manyonga flew low to yet another African long jump record – 8.65m.

“All our six Olympic fi­nal­ists from Rio 2016 gave in­cred­i­ble per­for­mances, and we must not be ashamed to pat our­selves on the back as an ath­let­ics fam­ily for a job well done,” said ASA pres­i­dent Aleck Skhosana.

The jar­ring thing about the press re­lease was that Skhosana, who had taken more di­rect credit for ASA in an in­ter­view on Umhlobo Wenene FM on Sat­ur­day, had dis­missed the same na­tional champs in a TV in­ter­view just over a month ago as a “small com­pe­ti­tion”.

Had it been up to him and ASA, Van Niek­erk, Sim­bine and the oth­ers should have been in the Ba­hamas on the week­end of the na­tional cham­pi­onships for the IAAF’s world re­lay cham­pi­onships.

“Those ath­letes who are iden­ti­fied and those who are con­firmed will be ex­pected to rep­re­sent the coun­try and skip the SA champs,” Skhosana told eNCA. “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,” he said.

While most of us may have felt a mea culpa of sorts was in or­der, the ASA way was to glibly move on to “all’s well that ends well”, tak­ing a fair dol­lop of the credit for some­thing it al­most cocked up.

Bet­ter yet, we are still in the dark about what the al­ter­na­tive plan is for the re­lay teams to qual­ify for the World Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don later this year. This is de­spite the fact that get­ting the re­lay team to qual­ify was so im­por­tant that ASA was will­ing to sab­o­tage prac­ti­cally its whole na­tional cham­pi­onships to do it.

But for now, with the ath­letes’ #Fil­lUpPotch ini­tia­tive hav­ing not only filled up the sta­dium, but also cap­tured the pub­lic and, hope­fully, spon­sors’ imag­i­na­tion, they are con­tent to ride on the ath­letes’ coat-tails.

The whole stand-off between ASA and its ath­letes sug­gests two things: the gov­ern­ing body still thinks that ath­letes can be treated like school kids, and our ath­letes’ re­cent per­for­mances have made them strong enough to defy the pow­ers that be.

What­ever your view, it is not a healthy sit­u­a­tion be­cause, in the same way that pro­fes­sional ath­letes, who by the looks of it or­gan­ise pretty much ev­ery­thing by them­selves, the tail should not wag the dog.

The nar­ra­tive that has emerged may be that the ath­letes are achiev­ing what­ever they are in spite of ASA in­stead of be­cause of it. While re­cent events would sug­gest so, ASA can pat it­self on the back for pro­vid­ing an en­vi­ron­ment more stable than the one that ex­isted be­fore this ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In fact, it does try to help – mid­dle dis­tance run­ner El­roy Ge­lant re­cently thanked it for fa­cil­i­tat­ing his trip to Kenya. But, clearly, its or­gan­i­sa­tional skills and at­ti­tude to the ath­letes needs work.

What ASA needs to re­alise is that, if it is to be in charge of world-class ath­letes, its stan­dards need to be dragged along to some­thing ap­proach­ing what its ath­letes are do­ing out there on the track.

If there are coat-tails to be rid­den, maybe ASA should try rid­ing those.

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