By Mark Etheridge
National coach Roger Barrow has confirmed that despite the glory of winning gold at the London Olympics last year, our rowers are still very much battling upstream when it comes to attracting sponsorship and funding as the next Olympic cycle gathers momentum.
The lightweight fours combination of James Thompson, Matthew Britain, John Smith and Sizwe Ndlovu made front pages around the world after their surprise win in the lightweight coxless fours but right now they are very much on the back foot when it comes to finding funding.
Said coach Barrow, who celebrated SA rowing’s greatest moment with the team in London: “I guess the biggest news is lack of funds, Our federation has nothing to support us with. We did a three-week camp in December with nothing and started the new year with out a cent.”
That’s in stark contrast to the previous Olympics in 2008. Barrow told Road to Rio 2016: “After Beijing, where we had a fifth place, we started the year with a good budget. But now with a gold we started with nothing. It’s really hard for the team to see light at the end of the tunnel in situations like this, even our basic supplement drinks now are just water.”
Barrow says that at least his four gold medallists and Olympic pairs crew of Lee-Ann Persse and Naydene Smith have some form of income. “They’re all on Opex [SASCOC’s high performance programme] and getting funds from them for living. But for the rest it is really tough. We cancelled the camp for March, when we normally go to Bethlehem for three weeks, as there is just no funding. I am trying to get little bits from different people to try help with things, luckily we have a home in the HPC as we are training well here.”
Meanwhile the Olympians are busying themselves by doing talks to try and raise funds for coaching as well as fuel costs for Barrow and his coaches.
“We are still training damned hard. I have a good squad of athletes ÔÇô altogether about 20 ÔÇô fighting for the top spots, and our Olympians are having to fight hard to survive.”
On the way forward, Barrow says: “I had planned three camps and four overseas races this year, but the way the funding is we will aim to do Lucerne in July and then the world champs at the end of August in Korea. In one way will make it suit us with the post Olympic year being quiet and focusing on the small things. We simply have to stay positive and ensure the external environment does not get us down and stay focused on the important things.
“Before world champs we’ll have two local races in April here in Pretoria ÔÇô┬ábeing Gauteng Champs and then the national champsÔÇª these will be indicators of where we are.”