SASCOC President Gideon Sam is a man with a mission and has not deviated from his dream of 12 medals in the 2012 Olympic Games in London next year.
The President of South Africa’s Olympic governing body was giving an update of progress ahead of the 2012 Games at a press conference at Olympic House in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
“The dream has certainly not changed at all,” said Sam. “We remain very confident in both ourselves and the fact that our athletes will step up to the plate and deliver when they need to. It’s paramount that we believe in them for them to believe that the whole country is behind them.
“Just as the nation threw their weight behind Bafana Bafana at last year’s Soccer World Cup and the Springboks at the recent Rugby World Cup our other sportsmen and women need the country’s undivided support.”
Already athletes from canoeing, rowing, women’s soccer and men’s wheelchair basketball have qualified for the 2012 Games and many of the other codes are currently busy with the qualifying process.
Why is Sam still so confident of success in London? “Informed by what other countries had achieved – the likes of New Zealand, Kenya, Holland, Sweden and Australia – I looked at things like their population, GDP and performance at the last Games in Beijing in 2008 and asked deep questions about us and the talent or lack of it that we have at our disposal. This exercise told me that with better plan and co-ordination, we should, all things being equal, perform better in London.”
SASCOC called on the various National Federations in 2009 to nominate their leading athletes according to certain criteria. After the names came in thick and fast the High Performance unit at SASCOC began the process of sifting through them.
“We then tightened the criteria to get the very best of the nominations,” said Sam. “Naturally that number dwindled and those that remained in the net of Operation Excellence (Opex) were given all the necessary support. These athletes, together with their coaches, were exposed to competitions and camps and all along the road they had to report back on their activities.
“But it doesn’t only concern London, this is a long term project and we also asked that the National Federations also nominated good young athletes for our Junior Opex programme.
Sam went on to say that SASCOC had gone far and wide to seek co-operation and buy-in from various other sources. “We are keenly aware of the input that our various tertiary institutions as well as our National Defence Force can provide and they have really come to the party in this regard.”
But Sam is also keenly aware that in the times we live in finances are of the utmost importance. “It has been extremely difficult to raise sponsorship. In these times of economic hardship – just last night the petrol price rocketed up again – it is very hard to raise sponsorship. But we have been blessed with assistance from our old friends the Lotto, Olympic Solidarity, Sport and Recreation South Africa, and from various sponsors who remain dedicated to our Paralympic team. Still, we have really stretched the Rand wherever possible to make our ends meet.”
The President also referred to a five-point plan to ensure that nothing is left to chance between now and the Games. “This involves ensuring total buy-in from the federations that will be involved in London, in these areas: How we manage the athletes and the intensity of that management; professional control of the process of preparing the athletes going forward; total support for total performance; encouraging squad training and then the marketing and publicity program around the athletes.”
Sam also emphasised that the country needed to continuously appraise itself when it came to sport. “We as a country must never be afraid to re-look and re-model our sporting structures and systems and in this regard I’m hoping that the upcoming National Sports Indaba will contribute towards improving what we are already doing.
“In the same light we will be launching our Coaches Framework later this month so will be another piece in the puzzle going forward to 2012 and beyond.
“So we are living in hugely exciting and promising times right now but once again I urge the South African public to get behind our Olympic sportsmen and women. They are going to need every last bit of support in the months ahead.”