SASCOC President Gideon Sam on Saturday painted a stark picture of the outlook for South African sport in the build-up to the 2016 Olympic Games and urged sports federations not to let the country down.

Sam was speaking at the national sports governing body’s Annual General Meeting at Olympic House, Johannesburg where close to 70 National Federations were present.

‘Despite a good performance at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland we wanted to maintain our fifth spot on the world rankings but slipped to seventh. And before that we were not on top of the table at the African Youth Games in Botswana, despite us normally dominating continental sport.

‘Despite some good performances by our youngsters I have to admit I am worried. Looking at Rio there is not much in the tank, our reserves are low.

‘This country needs the likes of athletics, boxing, cycling, golf, judo, rugby sevens and swimming to come to the party. Right now I can’t stand here and say we have only 30 athletes who will make it to Rio… that is scary, especially with almost 18 months out from the Games. We have to rock up and not let the country down.

‘One thing is for sure I am not going to Rio and coming back with four medals after we got six in London. Please help yourselves and your country.’

On the ever-present issue of funding Sam also pulled no punches. ‘It’s still very much an issue, but we are trying. National federations must understand there is very little money from the Lotto, something I have been warning the Federations for a long time now. Remember if there is seen to be nothing happening in your sport, there is no way that people will understand your sport, we have to ensure that there is sport out there.’

To this end Sam gave credit to federations who are trying to improve themselves, especially in terms of coaching. ‘I take my hat off to federations who have dedicated themselves to this process and that of high performance on the world stage.

‘The coaching framework is going well but we need to drill down to the depths and will be dependent on the various Sports Confederations in the provinces. As far as the Sports Academies go, a bit more effort and we will get to where we want to be. The academy system must be seamless from bottom to top. Once we have put our athletes into the various tiers, we as SASCOC will concentrate, through the OPEX Programme, on Tier One but we also keep an eye on and give support to Tiers two and three. However the bulk of work should be done in the provinces!

‘I appeal to you as federation leaders – if you don’t support the structures the academies will always have problems. We must work in the same direction, the federations must work harder with academies, and we can’t go round in circles otherwise we are short-changing our athletes.’We have also allowed private academies to be accredited by SASCOC and one in particular, Endurocad, run by Elana Meyer (former Olympic silver medallist) is an example of an academy that works well. Also, the National Training Camp in Bloemfontein is up and running and many of our federations are using it.’

Another subject in the news of late was that of transformation and Sam said it was unfair that the blame was being placed on SASCOC and the Department of Sport and Recreation.

‘Long ago, the federations all signed their agreement on this issue. If there are glitches we talk about it, at board meetings. We are not challenging the Transformation Charter but if we need to go back to the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) then we must look at that process.’

Sam also praised SA Rugby in this regard. ‘They took it upon themselves to tackle things, as did Cricket South Africa.

‘Many federations are working hard on this and working with the EPG. I must emphasise that transformation is not affirmative action in reverse. We have the documents to show this not the case. In fact the SASCOC Board decided yesterday to sit down with the EPG and raise any concerns of our Presidents and have a re-look at some of the issues on the transformation scorecard.’

To start the meeting Sam also took time to welcome new Presidents of close to 10 federations.

‘On behalf of SASCOC, welcome and thank-you for accepting responsibility for leading your sport. We have to infuse sport with new blood and we have to be standing up all the time as leaders. Two quick examples I’ve seen recently are the president of jukskei actively looking for funding and resources, and bodybuilding is going to Spain this week to try and find ways of marketing their sport. These are leaders.

‘We are still battling with branding and marketing, but people are working towards this. To them I say, don’t complicate the running of sport. It’s not hard, it can be easy but you have to put your sport on the market and let people see it and what you are doing.’

Keynote speaker at the AGM was Sports Minister Mr Fikile Mbalula who again cemented Sam’s thoughts on the academies and transformation.

‘We’ve been given a mandate to carry on the work from our previous term. As the President said, Academies must exist on the ground and not only in our minds, we need to be able to visit them and see that they are operational and accountable.

‘The mandate is also the implementation of the transformation charter… it’s a mammoth task but we must stop fiddling while Rome burns. Our immediate task is to unite and not divide. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided, we can’t have squabbles, infighting or disputes and anyone who advances a different pathway must be removed or have their membership terminated.’

Mbalula was also not scared to take criticism squarely on the chin. ‘Criticise me… but do it face to face if I am not driving sport well. Be straightforward – 20 years into freedom and we are still delayed because of gossips etc and these wolves in sheep’s clothing who are derailing transformation must be exposed.

‘SASCOC are elected to advance the interest of sport in general in South Africa and with good principles and corporate governance. They cannot be open to manipulation or else there will be anarchy in sport. People must not sidestep SASCOC and go to government. We must help federations and if they can’t sort things out decisive action must be taken. Look at basketball, which was previously disbanded. Now they are back, we are helping them and they are getting better.

‘Federations will always have areas of conflict and differences but they must be sorted out in the best interest of sport.’

Going back to transformation, Mbalula emphasised it was an ongoing process. ‘I have met with all the federations who went back to their own members and gave me feedback. If federations don’t agree there will be consequences, I have explained this and am still explaining.

‘I must again say that my approach is not to change national teams and deracialise them in terms of black and white. It’s an organic process from bottom up, but no-one should play for a national team unless it is on the basis of performance. Real transformation is a question of equity and access. The fundamentals are facilities, strong academies and a strong school sports programme that addresses all our challenges.

‘Look at our Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning rugby sevens team in Glasgow. A mix of black and white unified on the field, bringing back gold. Now that’s the South Africa I want… we have such talent in this country.’

Mbalula also referred to the possible hosting of future Commonwealth and Olympic Games in South Africa. ‘The world is looking at South Africa to be the first on the continent to host the Games … even the Olympics. The question is when? Yes it’s expensive but we need to think just what legacy Games of this magnitude leave for SA.

‘Otherwise, how do we sell this country to the world? Nelson Mandela is no longer here now but soccer’s 2010 Fifa World Cup was a huge boost, just as the Rugby World Cup and Cricket World Cup!

‘As government we’ve embarked on the process of the 2022 Commonwealth bid. It’s good for athletes and their own confidence but lets remember that the hosting of Commonwealth Games is a precursor to the Olympic Games. They are in tandem.

We have engaged all and are ready to take serious steps in government to put in a solid bid to make sure these Games come to the African continent. I can tell you now the progress of engagement is well underway. Let us unite in these campaigns and tell the story of this great nation.’

On the road forward to improving South Africa’s standing in the world of sport, Mbalula revealed that a group of prominent figures would soon be undertaking a study tour of Australia.

‘We want to see how their sports model works… I’m told they have the best model and sporting set-up’

The Minister also extended an invitation to other key parties. ‘I want coaches at national level, and leaders of SASCOC, academies, and development to join us on this tour. To this end we have also invited the entire Board of SASCOC to the next Ministers and Members of Executive Councils (MINMEC) meeting to take matters forward.’