I was slapped, says athlete
Coaches, athletes reveal ASA’s reign of racial, physical abuse
AS THE Athletics South Africa (ASA) president and board scrambled to keep their jobs after they were suspended this week, athletes and coaches allegedly have spoken out on how ASA has covered up verbal and physical abuse, and racism against athletes.
Stories of a 19-year-old woman being slapped by a high-ranking ASA official emerged yesterday, along with tales of how athletes were humiliated and threatened at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin in August.
ASA managers at the World Championships have been accused of being incompetent and more interested in shopping sprees than making sure athletes had enough food and clothing for the event.
Yesterday, the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) followed up its suspension of the board of ASA and its president, Leonard Chuene, for their handling of the Caster Semenya debacle by suspending ASA as a member of Sascoc. ASA, however, claims Sascoc does not have the power to suspend its board, although Sascoc’s president Gideon Sam said yesterday his body had the authority through an act of Parliament.
The suspension means ASA is effectively banned from competing in the Olympics.
The Semenya saga, for which Chuene has apologised for lying about the sex-testing of the 800m world champion, and the suspension of the board and Chuene, has finally seen athletes and coaches break what one called the “shackles of fear” they claim they have been forced to live under.
Chuene and the ASA management team in Berlin have been accused of humiliating team members; practising “racism” towards white coaches; being woefully inexperienced and knowing little about athletics; forcing athletes to go hungry; going on long shopping sprees; and instilling a climate of fear in the team.
However, the abuse seems to have been going on for some time. Nicolene Cronje, who at one stage was ranked as the No 1 in the world, has accused Molatelo Malehopo, now the general manager of ASA, of physically assaulting her at the World Junior Athletics Championships in Jamaica in 2002 when she was 19. She had been sitting with her coach watching the athletics, when Malehopo called her over.
“He took me to one of the side tunnels in the stadium. He started pointing his finger at me and accusing me of disobeying me and started smack- ing me in the face,” said Cronje yesterday after noon, who added there were two witnesses to the assault, coaches Snowy Matthews and Magda Botha.
“The next day I had a meeting with myself and Leonard, and he asked me very politely what happened, and I told him this guy smacked me in the face. He told me ‘Let’s forget this ever happened or your athletics career is over’.
“I didn’t know what to do and kept quiet. I only told my parents about a month ago when the Caster thing happened.
“I think a lot of athletes are coming forward because of that now. At this stage I don’t feel like competing and training under the ASA banner because that would mean I condone the way they operate.”
The officials in charge of the South African team in Berlin were Phiwe MlangeniTsholetsane, ASA’s events manager, who was the head manager, Chuene’s personal assistant, Humile Bogatsu, named as assistant manager, and Hendrik Mokganyetsi, the former 400m star.
“They don’t have a clue about athletes and athletics,” said sprinter Paul Gorries.
“They have no background on how to work with senior athletes. A contract for junior athletes was handed out with clauses such as not being allowed to go and eat with your parents. We also got threatened constantly with being sent home if you don’t act according to the contract. They were besotted with power.”
Magda Botha, one of the coaches with the South African team in Berlin, has accused Mokganyetsi of spying on athletes and racism. Botha said Mokganyetsi had continually referred to her as the “white” coach and made coaching decisions without consulting her. He also told Semenya, who had sat down next to Botha to eat a meal in the athletes’ dining hall, that she was not allowed to sit beside the coach.
“I was labelled as ‘the white coach’, which I have never been – I was always just a ‘coach’,” said Botha, a highly-respected international sprint coach.
When Wilhelm van den Vyfer had to write exams in South Africa, ASA refused to fly him back for the 4x100m relay squad, despite there being no replacement in the team. Bogatsu was flown back and forth from Germany at ASA expense to write exams in South Africa.
Coaches were accused of leaking the Semenya story to the media and of being racist because they did not attend Semenya’s medal ceremony. Botha said all athletes were in the stadium to watch Semenya receive her gold medal. She said none of the management team attended medal ceremonies for Khotso Mokoena or Mbulaeni Mulaudzi.
“We were told by Chuene that nothing from Berlin must be discussed upon our return.
“To save the sport, Chuene and his cronies must go.”
AUTHORITY: Sasoc president Gideon Sam
SUSPENDED: ASA president Leonard Chuene
CHAMPION: Star Caster Semenya
‘ASSAULT’: ASA general manager Molatelo Malehopo
‘VICTIM’: Nicolene Cronje says Malehopo attacked her