In this edition of Across the Line, Ockert de Villiers delves into Athletics SA's lack of officials and the National Championships scheduling bungle.
JOHANNESBURG - When it first emerged last November that the South African Senior Athletics Championships would clash with the IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas, there was no outcry, no resistance from athletes, and no controversy.

Up to that point the World Relays had seemingly not been a priority to South African athletes as the country skipped the first two editions.

Scheduling athletics meetings in South Africa can be a complicated exercise due to a serious lack of qualified officials.

April is traditionally a month in which all the national track and field championships are held across the country - SA Schools, Seniors, Youth and Juniors - which causes a bottleneck during this month. The same officials often have to do duty at these championships which removes ASA’s ability to freely play around with the schedule.

ASA recently revealed the desperate lack of qualified technical officials in the country.

Technical officials in South Africa are categorised as ASA level 1, 2, and 3, while the IAAF levels included a fourth tier.

South Africa only have one official who has reached the highest level of qualification on both the ASA and IAAF system.

ASA have at least acknowledged the problem, and announced they were in the process of raising the number of quality officials in the country.

Back to the Bahamas. Across the Line have ad nauseam made calls to ASA to get their act together and select a team for the World Relays. It was with great delight that we learned the federation heeded the call and had plans in place to qualify teams for the event including a few camps with meetings giving athletes the chance to sharpen up through competition. Unfortunately, ASA would sabotage themselves by scheduling the national championships at the same time as the World Relays.

When Across the Line last year asked ASA chief executive Richard Stander if this was not problematic he claimed the national championships were no longer considered the be-all and end-all of SA athletics.

“Since we’ve returned to international athletics the South African Championships have catered largely for the upcoming athletes, and not the elite athletes who aim for the world championships,” Stander said.

This would have been a valid point had ASA not for donkeys years included the selection criteria that athletes need to compete at the South African championships to be eligible for national teams.

At this year’s championships athletes have to compete in all the events in which they would like to be selected.

Stander pointed out that athletes selected for the World Relays would be excused from the national championships as “they are considered subservient to an international event”.

Perhaps ASA did not bargain on the fact that the athletes do not consider South Africa’s top track and field event as inferior.

Athletes also have certain clauses in their contracts with sponsors that they have to take part in the nationals.

Now we have a situation where the federation has to threaten the athletes to go to the Bahamas which at this stage is not a priority for them.

This situation could have been avoided had proper consultation between ASA and the athletes taken place before the schedule was compiled.

It brings us to the need for a proper athletics coordinator that can liaise with the athletes, agents, and coaches on what each individual’s plans are for the year.

United Kingdom Athletics this week announced the creation of an Athletes’ Commission "whereby the perspective and expertise of Great Britain’s international athletes will be heard". 

The Brits may provide the way forward for SA athletes and the administration to at least hum the same tune, never mind singing from the same hymn sheet.

Saturday Star