Pa­tri­o­tism or pay packet a tricky choice

Pretoria News Weekend - - SPORT -

PA­TRI­O­TISM is of­ten in­voked when track and field ath­letes have to do duty at in­ter­na­tional cham­pi­onships with­out any sort of pay­ment.

It is per­haps the bur­den the so-called Cin­derella sports have to carry where coun­try duty comes be­fore self-in­ter­est.

Only a hand­ful of ath­letes make a liv­ing out of ath­let­ics with an even smaller frac­tion earning close to that of their coun­ter­parts in main­stream sports like rugby, cricket, and foot­ball.

Ath­letes are ex­pected to be avail­able to com­pete for Ath­let­ics South Africa teams when they are se­lected, whether it is for the World Cham­pi­onships or a re­gional meet­ing.

Of­ten ath­letes will only re­ceive a small stipend, kit and the hon­our to rep­re­sent their coun­try as their only in­cen­tive.

Pro­fes­sional rugby, cricket, and foot­ball will not get out of bed for a price yet we ex­pect our ath­letes to risk in­jury with­out com­pen­sa­tion for flag and coun­try.

This week half-lap sprinter Pi­eter Con­radie was ac­cused of un­pa­tri­otic be­hav­iour when he pre­ma­turely left the World Univer­sity Games in Taipei to race in the Di­a­mond League fi­nal in Zurich.

Con­radie drew the cha­grin of Univer­sity Sports South Africa (USSA) after they ap­par­ently paid an ex­tra evening’s ac­com­mo­da­tion in Lon­don after the World Cham­pi­onships be­fore fly­ing him to Taipei.

While in Tai­wan the young ath­lete found out he had earned a lane in the pres­ti­gious and lu­cra­tive Zurich fi­nal of the Di­a­mond League meet­ing.

Con­radie in­formed the team man­ager he would leave the Games but his re­quest was de­clined. He nev­er­the­less with­drew be­fore his sched­uled race and par­tic­i­pated in Thurs­day’s Di­a­mond League where he fin­ished in seventh place.

“We wish to reg­is­ter our disappointment by such con­duct of the ath­lete,” USSA said in a state­ment.

“Such con­duct does not rep­re­sent the val­ues of a true pa­tri­otic South African. If USSA had been made aware of such ar­range­ments prior to the team an­nounce­ment in July 2017, a de­serv­ing stu­dent from any mem­ber univer­sity would have been af­forded the op­por­tu­nity to rep­re­sent his/her coun­try.”

While Con­radie’s ac­tion may have lacked in­tegrity it is per­haps a re­flec­tion of the cur­rent state of af­fairs in the sport.

It is the same USSA that voiced its disappointment that Wayde van Niek­erk, Caster Se­menya and Akani Sim­bine were not avail­able for se­lec­tion. Long jumper Ruswahl Sa­maai also de­clined to go to Taipei as he would have had to fly from Zurich to Tai­wan and par­tic­i­pate within days.

In a sport with a short sell-by-date ath­letes need to min­imise the risk of in­jury and max­imise their earning po­ten­tial.

The World Univer­sity Games hardly puts food on the ta­ble although the in­di­vid­ual uni­ver­si­ties play a greater role in the devel­op­ment of South African ath­letes.

Ac­cord­ing to Ath­let­ics SA’s (ASA) Pol­icy and Prin­ci­ples doc­u­ment the only rea­son for send­ing teams to rep­re­sent the coun­try at in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion was to “bring back hon­our to South Africa”.

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

Per­haps ASA should prac­tice what they preach. It is also de­bat­able whether win­ning medals should be the only cri­te­ria for se­lect­ing teams.

A coach this week sug­gested ath­letes should fo­cus less on mak­ing South African teams and in­stead work to­wards gain­ing ac­cess to in­ter­na­tional per­mit meet­ings where they can earn a liv­ing.

I may not agree with this no­tion but if ASA are not care­ful they could alien­ate the ath­letes through oner­ous se­lec­tion cri­te­ria with­out ac­tu­ally creat­ing a con­ducive en­vi­ron­ment for them to make a ca­reer out of the sport.

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