A few minutes before 9am on Thursday, an email, short and with no frills, arrived from Cycling South Africa. “Men’s road team miss qualification for Commonwealth Games. Cycling South Africa received SASCOC’s (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) final verdict relating to the urgent appeal made by the cycling federation urging SASCOC to review selection to include the men’s road cycling team for the upcoming Commonwealth Games.
“The appeal, although considered, was not approved due to the fact that the individual ranking did not meet the agreed upon selection criteria. Cycling SA accepts the decision and will support those athletes who have been selected to represent our nation and country with pride. ENDS”
The madness of Luis Suarez – the biting, the baiting, the diving and the insulting of another man’s race – is borne of love and fear; the love of his wife and two children, and the fear of losing all that it has taken him to find the contentment of a family.
That’s one theory put forward by ESPN writer Wright Thompson who travelled to Uruguay to find some truth to the character behind the man, to discover a deeper story away from the fickleness of the tabloid headlines, the memes and the post-literate fatuous-ness of radio soundbites.
In the 78th minute of the Springboks-Wales match in Nelspruit, Steve Walsh, the New Zealand referee who was resurrected in Australia, told Alun Wyn Jones, the captain of Wales, to give him some space. “I’ve got to make a big decision here.”
It was a game-changing decision, the try-saving shoulder charge by Wales fullback Liam Williams on Cornal Hendricks deemed illegal. A penalty try was to be awarded. Walsh took his time in explaining the decision to Wyn Jones. He took so long that eventually Victor Matfield came over and motioned Wyn Jones to go away.
What we know about the World Cup thus far: the officials aren’t much good; Spain weren’t savvy with Xavi; Tim Cahill can score with his foot; the fans of Chile are beautifully bonkers; a can of spray foam frightens grown men into place; Neymar looks knackered; Ronaldo has probably come into the tournament with a knackered knee; the Dutch could win the whole damn thing; Brazil are over-rated; Ryan Giggs is as good at TV analysis as Fifa are at ethics; and South Africans are embarrassingly up their own arses about how 2010 was better than 2014.
Our opening ceremony was better than Brazil, our stadiums are/were better than Brazil, we were better organised than Brazil and “Phillip” is not in Brazil. Brazil is not South Africa and South Africa is not Brazil, which is the bleeding obvious. Brazil doesn’t look like it’s bitterly cold and freezing, though. Drinking beer in a T-shirt in the sun is a lot more fun than shivering at the FNB Stadium with a R30 bottle of Bud in your gloved hand. They also like to score goals in 2014, around two dozen more than they had in 2010 at the same time.
On Thursday, Daryl Impey, riding for Orica-Greenedge, was in the break in the fifth stage of the Criterium du Daphine. With him was the legendary Jens Voigt and the French champion, Arthur Vichot. Impey took fourth on the day, holding on after the rest of the break had been swallowed up.
The English commentator on the Criterium du Dauphine, regarded as a good test of form ahead of the Tour de France, spoke about Impey. He is a popular rider on the World Tour circuit, highly respected for his work ethic, talent and ability to produce results. The commentator had heard South Africa would not be sending a men’s cycling team to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He, like many, was not sure how that was possible. Impey would be one of the favourites for a medal, if not the win.
The commentator was not the only one wondering why the South African men’s team had not qualified. When |Impey’s name was not read out at the Commonwealth Games team announcement on Wednesday, I thought I had missed it. Tubby Reddy, the CEO of Sascoc, and Gideon Sam, the president, said the team had not qualified because they did not have a rider in the top five of the Commonwealth. I pushed Sam on it, saying that being ranked as one of the top five Commonwealth riders on the World Tour was hardly a sensible way to judge form or potential for a cycling team.
I took several calls on Wednesday and then Thursday from former South African national team managers, riders and officials. The South African team had not “qualified” for Melbourne and Delhi in 2006 and 2010. In Melbourne they won silver with a team that the Australian manager admitted had “made the race”. In Delhi they rode on the front for large sections of the race, but missed out in the last stages.
Doug Ryder, the team principal of MTN Qhubeka presented by Samsung, the first African-based pro continental team, was in Italy when we spoke on Friday. He would be with his team at the Tour of Switzerland, a World Tour event, which started on Saturday. His eight-man team included four South Africans, some of whom would have been in the Commonwealth Games team.
“I was bitterly disappointed when I saw there was no men’s team,” said Ryder. “It’s crazy. I sent an email to Cycling SA telling them I know they tried their best to convince Sascoc to send a team.”
In the email, Ryder wrote: “It is crazy that a silver medal at the World Championships last year, the first for South Africa on the road, and a yellow jersey in the Tour de France is not enough motivation. I am sad for the riders who want nothing more than to ride for South Africa.
“I am bitterly disappointed for our team and MTN who have invested tens of millions (of rands) to build the sport, and to give riders the opportunities to compete against the best in the world to then be overlooked. In four years’ time we might no longer exist and, possibly, there will be less South African riders competing in the World Tour than now. We have four South African riders starting the Tour de Suisse (yesterday) as I was committed to getting riders ready for the Games.”
“My email to Cycling SA tells you what I think,” said Ryder on Friday. “It makes no sense. Two years ago we only had Robbie Hunter and Impey competing on the World Tour. Team MTN Qhubeka brought another nine South African riders into the World Tour in one year, more than there ever has been. We also funded all the support, infrastructure and staff at the World Championships in Tuscany last year in support of the SA riders to have the best chance of getting a result. This should be a partnership with clear communication so that an informed decision can be made.
“Supporting the national team is something we have always done and something I am passionate about. If you ask our riders what is one of the major goals of the year for them, they will say the national and world championships. All through the years and sponsorships of teams, a huge dream is to develop an African road racing world champion.”
Ryder’s MTN Qhubeka team will ride in the Vuelta a Espana in August and September, the last of the three grand tours for the year.
The hunger amongst the South African riders was evident at the recent Mzansi Tour. Jacques Janse van Rensburg and Louis Meintjies were in a different class.
“They can see how the high level quality of racing that they are doing now is improving their performance. They realise that they are competitive against the best in the world and this drives them to greater performances. They know this is a moment in time for all of them and they want to make use of every opportunity. For sure La Vuelta is a huge motivation and they all want to be in the first-ever African registered team to race a grand tour. The riders that stand on the podium at the team presentation on August 22 will experience the most special moment for them and something they will never forget, nor will I.”
Ryder said MTN Qhubeka were looking for stage wins at the Tour of Switzerland. They would race aggressively. “The riders have prepared well. This is our dress rehearsal for La Vuelta, and our performance here will set the tone for the next eight weeks of preparation for La Vuelta. It’s both scary and exciting.”
A six-man South African team at Commonwealth Games would be scary and exciting. Impey would have finished the greatest training camp of them all, the Tour de France. The MTN Qhubeka riders would be sharp. Cycling SA are appealing to Sascoc in an attempt to get them to change their decision. Let us hope they succeed for the sake of South African cycling and common sense.
From: @daraobriain (Dara O’Briain, the Irish comedian and football fan, doesn’t have much time for Diego Costa’s dive against the Netherlands)
Sent: 13 June 2014 9.53pm
“All that analysis of Costa’s penalty is, with respect, bollox. You can’t penalise the defender for being stood on as he slides past.”
From: @WelshIrvine (Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, believes there should be goalline technology for the Fifa boardroom)
Sent: 13 June 2014 9.35pm
We need that technology in the boardroom, to track all the brown envelopes. Did that bastard actually cross the table?
From: @darylimpey (Daryl Impey, the first African to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France)
Sent: 11 June 2014 5.39pm
“It’s absolutely crazy they didn't select a men's cycling team for Commonwealth Games. Disappointed for everyone!”