R25m for a black elite swimmer
Writers say success in swimming depends mostly on resources
African swimmers will in most cases not have the parental support
● To engineer a black South African Olympic swimmer from the townships will cost up to R25-million, according to estimates by KwaZulu-Natal Aquatics (KZNA).
Clocking an A-qualifying time to book a spot at the Games is tough for swimmers of any colour.
Out of the roughly 10 000 registered South African swimmers, only 10, all of them white, made the cut for the Rio showpiece in 2016 — a hit rate of one in a thousand.
“Keeping in mind that African swimmers will in most cases not have the parental support to ferry swimmers mornings and afternoons to training, costs for galas and national transport, nutrition . . . it would be impossible to make any meaningful transformation in the sport without a deliberate intervention,” KZNA president Peter Thompson and board member Rajen Naidoo wrote in a report titled Producing the first black aquatic Olympian.
“Achieving elite status in swimming has more to do with access to resources than talent itself.”
Over the past five years KZNA has had five township pools heated, at R2-million per 50metre pool and R1-million per 25m pool, with financial assistance from the Ethekwini municipality.
The plan includes training African coaches at community pools and finding high schools with boarding and sports facilities to accommodate the swimmers.
The proposal, which has yet to convince sponsors, starts with identifying 10 to 12 promising 10-year-old black children, with a focus on women, and funding them for 10 years. “The success of this programme lies not in the identification of one or two athletes, but at least 10 to 12 swimmers . . .
“Though the unit costs are likely to be reduced as the numbers increase, at least R20million to R25-million will be required to produce the first black Olympian over a 10year period, through a carefully constructed social engineering programme.”
There are already swimmers of colour in the system, notably Bishops matric pupil Michael Houlie, the breaststroker who picked up a 4x100m medley relay bronze as a morning swimmer at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in April. Schoolgirl Khwezi Duma was part of the national team that competed in Italy in the past two days.
The last black African swimmer to make
waves was Thabang Moeketsane, a Commonwealth Youth Games silver medallist who didn’t make it at senior level.
The authors estimate that costs will amount to R150,000 per swimmer until the age of 12, and after that it goes up to R250,000, with 80% of the increase going towards schooling.
They outline four phases of swimming, starting with the initial lessons where children are taught for safety reasons and shown the different strokes.
On the next rung, called learning to compete, the swimmers, aged eight to 12, move up from three 45-minute sessions a week to five or six periods lasting up to 90 minutes each.
“It is in this demanding phase that many of those thousands [who were] taught to swim as eight-year-olds drop out of competitive swimming.”
At this stage it is vital that the youngsters are doing at least 20km-25km a week for most of the 12 months of the year. “School holidays, long family holiday trips all become compromised, and planned around the training schedules.”
The report lists detailed budgets for swimmers in the first two phases, with annual costs including R67 200 for subsistence based on R200 a day, R48 000 for transport costs, R14 250 for competitions, R12 000 for academic support and R6 000 for coaching.
The third phase, learning to win, is for swimmers aged 13 to 17, where they do six to seven training sessions of two hours each a week. They swim up to 5km a session.
By 18 they’re doing two sessions a day and training incorporates gym, massage and physiotherapy.
And those who become elite national champions are training three times a day and swimming up to 14km a day.
Here the annual costs balloon with items like R50 000 for school and boarding, R30 000 for academic support and even R24 000 for counselling children who may need assistance spending more time away from their home environment.