R25m for a black elite swim­mer

Writ­ers say suc­cess in swim­ming de­pends mostly on re­sources

Sunday Times - - Sport | Swimming/Cricket - By DAVID ISAAC­SON isaac­[email protected]­day­times.co.za

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.

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