Unprecedented support benefitting SA athletes

The third annual South African Sports Confederation, Olympic and Paralympic Committee (SASCOC) Athletes’ Commission Indaba was held at Olympic House on Friday, and in a sign of progress, it... Read more
Unprecedented support benefitting SA athletes

The third annual South African Sports Confederation, Olympic and Paralympic Committee (SASCOC) Athletes’ Commission Indaba was held at Olympic House on Friday, and in a sign of progress, it proved to be the most successful so far.

The day-long Indaba featured various panel discussions and presentations, and covered a raft of important subjects. Clearly on the horizon for 2024 are the Paris Olympics and Paralympics, although the Africa Games and Region V Youth Games are also on the schedule. However, the message was all about offering athletes support.

Speakers at the Indaba included wheelchair tennis star Kgothatso Montjane, para-swimmer Kat Swanepoel, athletes Zakhiti Nene and Lythe Pillay. They spoke about their personal journeys through 2023 and what lies ahead for them in 2024. 

Other athletes involved in discussions were swimmers Lara van Niekerk and Matt Sates, gymnast Naveen Daries, athlete Kyle Blignaut, wheelchair tennis’ Donald Rampadi and judo’s Geronay Whitebooi.

Much of the emphasis was centred on the support the athletes have been receiving and will do so going forward. At the heart of that was the relaunch of the OPEX programme for athletes, with Bidvest coming on board in 2023 to be an official partner to Team SA and offering financial assistance. 

The Bidvest OPEX programme offers invaluable support to more than 70 athletes across three tiers. The top tier is for elite athletes, those going for medals at the Olympics and Paralympics in 2024. Tier two identifies and helps athletes who are expected to be a force at the 2028 Games in Los Angeles, although there are some who might surprise in Paris. The third tier is a grassroots programme aimed at talent identification.

All the athletes spoke positively of the support they have been getting since the Bidvest OPEX programme was relaunched, as well as the involvement of the Olympic Solidarity Support, an IOC programme. The latter allows selected athletes to earn scholarships and they receive access to training facilities, while being able to travel to Olympic qualification events.

Also acknowledged for supporting athletes was the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture.

The overwhelming message from the athletes could be wrapped up by comments from wheelchair tennis Grand Slam champion Rampadi and emerging swimmer Sates.

“Just two years ago I had to fund my own travel, so for example all my prize money from the Australian Open was used up for me to travel to be able to keep my world ranking, to get the invites to the big events. The support programme has not only taken away that stress, but I have a new competition wheelchair that I would not have previously been able to afford.”

Sates said: “As athletes going into a race with so much pressure and expectation to perform, the last thing we need is the extra pressure of wondering where next month’s rent is going to come from, or whether we can afford a physio or medical visits. Now, thanks to the support we’re receiving we can get on with training and competing.”

Double Commonwealth Games gold medallist Lara van Niekerk echoed those thoughts. “The financial assistance makes a difference on a daily basis. Now we can go into training with 100 percent focus, and in the knowledge that we have access to physios and dieticians and the support required to compete as an elite athlete.”

The messages of support extended to the Medical and Safe Sport environments. There was plenty of open debate around mental health and support for athletes in that regard, while other key takeaways included the importance of Athletes’ Commissions, both within SASCOC, but also for each National Federation.

Some critical issues were raised by the athletes, providing valuable insights to SASCOC. SASCOC will engage with the National Federations to address these concerns, which include, among other things, the Selection Criteria for various multi-coded events.

Chairperson of the SASCOC Athletes Commission, 2008 Beijing silver medallist Khotso Mokoena, told athletes that “We are getting to a point where we no longer ask how much we are getting (funding). We are now in a place where that is automatic. Now, what I want to challenge you about as an athlete is, ‘what are you missing in your field that will make you a step forward. What are you missing now that will be the difference from competing to winning?”

The CEO of SASCOC, Nozipho Jafta outlined that, “Our job as administrators and officials is to facilitate, guide and support our athletes. Our role is to help the athletes achieve all their dreams, reward them for their hard work and also to ensure the country gets to see the very best versions of themselves when they take to the grandest stage.”

“As we look to Paris 2024, we as an organisation are working hard behind the scenes to ensure that the journey to Games is a smooth and pleasant one for our Athletes. The Games provide an opportunity for the all the Athletes to showcase their talents, and we want to make sure our athletes are in a prime position to perform,” Jafta added.

The SASCOC president, Barry Hendricks, had opened proceedings by telling the Indaba: “This commission is one of the heartbeats of SASCOC. Three years ago we were in a bad place. But now, a new board and a strategic plan, the organisation has been turned around and monitor and record your success and failures. As athletes you have to take responsibility for your future. Every Federation must have an athletes’ commission.”

Issued by SASCOC

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