‘ASA does not look af­ter its ath­letes’

CityPress - - Sport - SIMINIKIWE XABANISA sports@city­press.co.za

Com­rades Marathon win­ner Ann Ash­worth has elab­o­rated on the rea­sons she pub­licly de­clined her se­lec­tion for South Africa’s 100km World Cham­pi­onship team this week.

Ash­worth was no­ti­fied of her se­lec­tion for the 12-ath­lete (six men and six women) team for the 100km world champs, which will be held in Croa­tia in Septem­ber.

She said on Twit­ter: “Thanks @ASAth­let­ics, but un­til you can ac­tu­ally start do­ing some­thing to as­sist road run­ners in our coun­try with fund­ing and other sup­port, I’m not happy to com­pete in SA colours.”

Asked to ex­plain why she would turn down her first na­tional team se­lec­tion af­ter a bril­liant sea­son, in which she won her maiden Com­rades last month, Ash­worth said: “My coach [ John Ham­lett] has trav­elled with the team be­fore; he said it’s so badly man­aged and or­gan­ised that it’s ac­tu­ally to the ath­letes’ detri­ment to go.

“[Com­rades cham­pion] Gift Kelehe said that they had a 15-hour de­lay at an air­port last year and no money for food and drink through­out that time. There are a lot of sto­ries like that – [marathon run­ner] Ma­paseka Makhanya told a sim­i­lar story. Ath­let­ics SA [ASA] doesn’t look af­ter ath­letes.”

Ash­worth, an ad­vo­cate who has made de­vel­op­ing woman dis­tance run­ners some­thing of a per­sonal mis­sion with the spon­sors of her women-only run­ning club Mass­mart, said there was more to her re­fusal to com­pete for South Africa.

“Maybe I should pro­vide a con­text to my ob­jec­tion,” she said. “I’m not only ob­ject­ing to the way ASA treats ath­letes, I’m ob­ject­ing to its pol­icy of not de­vel­op­ing dis­tance run­ning and in­stead chan­nelling all its money to track and field.”

Ash­worth’s gripe is that, with the strides track and field was mak­ing, it stood to rea­son that dis­tance run­ning would reap the same ben­e­fits with fi­nan­cial sup­port be­hind it. But she said that, when she and the other cor­po­rate dis­tance run­ning clubs tried to ad­dress the is­sue with ASA chief ex­ec­u­tive Richard Stander last year, there was a fall­ing out.

“We met in March last year to try to un­der­stand [whether] their ob­jec­tives were to sup­port the ath­letes and they de­cided to change the regis­tra­tion fee to R100 000 per prov­ince. We told them we can’t throw money into a black hole with no ac­count­abil­ity.

“Ba­si­cally, when we asked ASA what it could do to de­velop dis­tance run­ning, its ap­proach was that it would take the clubs’ money to de­velop track – 80% to 85% of its in­come is from road run­ning, how can it take a huge chunk and in­vest it on a tiny as­pect of the sport and leave road run­ning to get worse and worse?”

Ash­worth was at pains to re­it­er­ate that she would have loved to rep­re­sent her coun­try un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances: “I don’t think there could be a greater mo­ment in an ath­lete’s life than to com­pete for his or her coun­try; I could have in­cluded it in the sched­ule even though I couldn’t get back up to peak fit­ness af­ter rac­ing Com­rades.

“It would be a phe­nom­e­nal op­por­tu­nity, but I’ve been af­forded a plat­form where I can fight for some­thing big­ger than just me and I’m go­ing to use it,” she said.

Iron­i­cally, Ash­worth said her club spon­sor Mass­mart was keen to par­tially fund the trip to Croa­tia.

“I emailed [ASA ul­tra-dis­tance run­ning chair­per­son] Ge­orge Lamb in Novem­ber to tell him Mass­mart was keen to spon­sor the women’s team, but had no re­sponse,” she said.

“I emailed him three times, but got no re­sponse. I was a bit ner­vous about speak­ing out be­cause it would have been por­trayed as my spon­sors not giv­ing me enough, but that’s not the point. The point is they of­fered to help and ASA didn’t even take ad­van­tage of that.”

When asked for comment, ASA pres­i­dent Aleck Skhosana said: “It’s sim­ple, we have no comment on any and ev­ery­thing she says.”

PHOTO: CHRIS RICCO / BACKPAGEPIX

NOT HAPPY Com­rades Marathon cham­pion Ann Ash­worth has chal­lenged Ath­let­ics SA to treat road run­ners fairly

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