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President’s Voice – Gideon Sam

The post Commonwealth Games and Youth Olympics period have left us pondering about how we should approach the putting together of future composite teams to represent South Africa.
Though we have a very strict criteria for selecting teams we still hear people say that maybe we are missing something.
Short of saying that we do not really know what we are doing, people, and by this I mean coaches, parents and just the ordinary man/woman in the street, believe they can do a better job at selecting teams to represent this country.
We are not deaf to all these points being raised, but the bottom line is never considered by those who have something to say about this matter.
People avoid the real issues in South African sport and continue to postulate theories that are not really tested in this country.
One school of thought is that the more athletes we take along to ‘gain experience’, the better we shall be in future campaigns. Those who have been around long enough will remember that was our stance after unity in South African sport because we believed that such an approach will hasten our attempts to give exposure to a huge majority of athletes to international competition with the resultant better competitiveness next time.
But the records are there for all to see, it did not happen that way, because many of these athletes simply ‘disappeared’ after these international competitions. It was as if the mere title ‘Olympian’ or the team blazer was the pinnacle of their lives.
For the number of athletes that have been selected over the years few really contributed to medals for this country.
The other school of thought of course is the one that I subscribe to. It says we must not cheapen national colours and make selection for the national team too easy, because then you will never be able to set a standard. Critics of this approach say: ‘but look at the huge teams that countries like Australia and the UK field in these competitions’.
Well, go and take a closer look at what they do before and after such competitions. The years leading up to these competitions are well managed and resourced. The best coaches are appointed and the best talent nurtured. The culling process post these great competitions is vicious. Non-performers are shown the door because the production line has many more waiting to come into the system.
A handful of Federations in this country can lay claim to a well-resourced system of identifying talent; nurturing it and putting it on the international platforms to perform. Just  think how many high jumpers we have had after Hestrie Cloete and Jacques Freitag? Really nothing to write home about.
hat we tend to do is to flog the  “old” horse until there is nothing left because we do not like to do development as it has this poor connotation. There is no glamour nor money in development and development is actually meant for the previously disadvantaged athletes.
Then we go to the  outh Olympic Games, as recently seen in Nanjing, China and we discover that we are actually all seriously disadvantaged.
As the old saying goes: ‘Check the scoreboard!’
Back to my point. Selecting teams in sport is going to be a debating point for a long time to come because we are not addressing the basics.
Suppose we pursue this dream of wanting to host the Commonwealth Games of 2022 and the Olympic Games of 2024, what should be our approach to sport development in this country?
We might discover to our horror that we have actually missed the bus.
Developing Olympians takes some investing in time and resources and unfortunately for us, we have not started on that road.
It’s still good to note that there are nevertheless some encouraging results and performances from our sportsmen and women. Bafana Bafana held the ever-powerful Nigeria to a Cup of Nations draw in Cape Town this week and I also saw cyclist Louis Meintjies looking very impressive, mixing it with the big guns, in the queen stage of the Vuelta a Espana.
Great to see too is our Beijing Olympic silver medallist long-jumper Khotso Mokoena winning the diamond for overall winner of the Diamond League series.
And on the Paralympic front ‘veteran’ Ernst van Dyk is now ranked first in the world for hand cycling and his time he set while winning a record 10th Boston Marathon is still top of the world this year.


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