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Alexander up for the challenge

At the recent Special Board Meeting of Triathlon South Africa,  Dr Debbie Alexander was unanimously voted in as the new President of Triathlon South Africa after the former President, Gideon Sam stepped down in light of the fact that he now heads up the South African Olympic Governing Body, SASCOC.

Manfred Seidler interviewed her on her new appointment and the challenges that lie ahead.

Debbie what was your immediate reaction upon receiving the 100% backing of both the Excom and the Board
My immediate reaction was a feeling of apprehension. Firstly because of the immense responsibility that comes with the position and secondly because it is not easy to fill the huge shoes of Gideon Sam. But being elected was not entirely a surprise, as there were some discussions as to the best options for the leadership of the sport prior to the election. I was however surprised by the unanimous support. After the election, I spent time asking each Board and Excom member that had just voted whether they would be happy to work as a team member with me to take triathlon to the next level and it was on receipt of their positive affirmations that relief crept in. We are a good team, we have built a solid foundation in the last three years and to know that I have their support in taking TSA forward is a good feeling.

Three years ago TSA was in a bit of an upheaval yet you are confident that things have changed. Can you be more specific as to the changes?
When the majority of the current group of Excom and Board Members were elected 3 years ago we had a monumental challenge ahead of us. We took over the sport at national level with nothing, not one piece of A4 size paper. There was reportedly one old laptop which we were told did not work. So no information was available from that. It was only months later that we received the laptop from one source and one lever arch file containing some hard copies from the previous Leadership. We started from ÔÇ£ scratchÔÇØ;┬á we had to reexamine and rewrite all the policies and procedures necessary to administer the sport. That meant formulating looking at┬á policies and procedures for correct administration, team management, team selection, certification of coaches and technical officials, technical aspects of events relating to┬á in terms of fairness and safety etc. We have also streamlined how we prepare for teams competing at world championships. We plan┬á in that we work a year in advance. A. As soon as the venues for the World Championships are announced, if necessary, we send the a team managers to arrange the venue to find suitable accommodation as well as the transport for the athletes and their bikes. and to establish the distance of hotels to venues, the route information, transport etc. Ensuring that our athletes are happy takes some planning.
We also plan our events calendar a year in advance now, but do not always release it until we have confirmation of all the ITU and ATU events. so that we fit in with their calendars. We need to have sufficient time between the SA Championship, All Africa Championships and World Championships events for selection, entries and arrangements; as well as enough time for athletes to prepare adequately in terms of their training programmes.

Clearly the sport has also grown in the last few years. There are so many more events on like the Xterra and others. That has to be good for the sport.
Yes triathlon certainly is booming. Events like the Xterra’s a fairly new discipline of the sport in South Africa, now sanctioned by TSA, and it is growing incredibly fast. We have with the Momentum Health/Teavigo National Duathlon Series also opened the door to many more competitors and of course the BSG Energade events have been hugely popular for years already. With the introduction of the ÔÇ£kiddiesÔÇØ triathlon as part of the Series we introduced a new dimension to the way in which triathlon is seen. It is as much an aspirational or ÔÇ£coolÔÇØ sport as a family sport. So the sport is certainly healthy. We also recently added to our list of events the 11 Global Series, an ÔÇ£internationalÔÇØ series which has two legs in South Africa.

It all sounds very good, but surely there are many challenges that still lie ahead?
Oh for sure. Our job is never done. We are continually, with support from the ITU, ATU, Department of Sport and Recreation South African (SRSA) and the National Lotteries Board providing training for all our Coaches and Technical Officials. More recently we have conducted such as Level 1 and 2 Courses as well as┬á First Aid courses for our officials. It is all part of our endeavour to streamline the sport. I firmly believe that at events technical officials should do only that officiate ÔÇô they cannot be event organizers as well and officials. If your brief is the Marketing portfolio, then that’s what you should be doing, the same goes for Media and Event Organizing. We need to have the individuals responsible for portfolios specializations to take responsibility for those areas so that we can become more professional at organizing our events. Problems arise where the boundaries are blurred. The events have come a long way already, but if we are to host top class events we need to ÔÇ£up our gameÔÇØ further ÔÇô we still have so much to do and continue to raise the bar.

In terms of making our sport more accessible to the broader community, we have, with the support of the Department of SRSA and SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority), developed unit standards for our coaching and technical officials courses. This means that triathlon coaching and technical officiating aspects can, in future (once the unit standards have been registered with SAQA) be taught as electives in coaching and sport management education and training programmes. We have to date developed 3 coaching and 2 technical officials (TO) unit standards. The Level 1 coaching and TO unit standards will be on a NQF level 3 ÔÇôthat is the equivalent of grade 12/matric level.

For the two years 2009/10, TSA has been awarded just over R10 million rand by the Lotto. It would seem a lot of money. How will TSA be utilizing the funds to achieve their objectives?
TSA have been awarded R10 878 056 by the Lotto. 50% will be allocated to the development of our athletes from the development level to high performance. Funding is earmarked for the High Performance Program which includes talent ID, medical and scientific testing and international participation. Further funding is available for U23 athletes, juniors, development and schools programme. Funding is also allocated to capacity building in the sport which includes things such as Race Official Courses, Coaches and Administrators Courses. Then there is the funding of the High Performance Program which includes talent identification, medical and scientific testing, international participation, hosting of events such as the African Cup, World Cup, All Africa Championships, travel to World Duathlon and Triathlon Championships; and of course the running of the office. Ideally we would like to see the TSA office eventually run on a full time basis by a staff contingent as happens with many other federations. Currently we only have two full time employees; the rest of us are all involved in the sport on a voluntary non- payment basis. We all need to juggle our TSA responsibilities around our full time occupations. We know that this is not
Ideal,  but it does not deter us from our goal to turn the sport it around.

The High Performance aspect of it all sounds very promising indeed, but exactly how are you going to implement these plans?
TSA will be hosting a workshop on 8 and 9 May in Pretoria to assist the federation in the formulation of the High Performance Programme for its athletes leading up to the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. The workshop will be facilitated guided by Mary-Jane Goebel. Invited participants are as facilitator Mary-Jane Goebel. Attending will be Lindsey Parry (Sports Science Triathlon), Rocco Meiring (Swimming ÔÇô Triathlon), Dr Carol Austin (former TSA High Performance Director), Libby Burrel (ITU Development Officer), Pierre de Roubaix (Swimming), Wilfred Dani├½ls (┬áAthletics┬á- High Performance), Richard Woolrich (Cycling and Triathlon Consultant, High Performance Division Sport Science Institute of South Africa), Dr Jeroen Swart (Sports Medicine Physician/Exercise Physiologist/ Athlete/ Cyclist), Dr Ross Tucker (Exercise Physiologist), Lucie Zelenkova (Elite Tri Athlete, Olympian, Masters degree in Sport Science ) and myself in my capacity as Clinical Psychologist.
Topics will include the current Status of High Performance in TSA, Identification of the current structure, developing a High Performance Vision and Objectives for TSA, criteria for Elite, Junior, Fast Track and Development Squads and support programs for these squads.

There may be a lot of hard work that still needs to be done by TSA to get the sport to a level that will deliver Olympic and World Champions, grow the sport and generate the depth needed to build an elite platform, but judging by the work done already in the past 3 years and the plans that are being formulated now, TSA are clearly on a mission to deliver.