Troubled sports codes call for support

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SA women's hockey2 Gallo Images The South African women's and men's hockey sides struggle to keep up with the best teams in the world because their budget is so small.

Johannesburg – Some of South Africa's most prominent Olympic sporting codes have pleaded for increased support by government, corporate sponsors, and the media.

With the country's three most popular sports – soccer, rugby, and cricket – attracting the majority of support and funding, top officials in swimming, cycling, tennis, hockey, and rowing insist they cannot achieve their lofty goals without more support.

Swimming SA (SSA) lost its only major sponsor, Telkom, late last year and has not found a replacement – forcing athletes to contribute some of the costs if they hope to compete at the World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona in July.

With the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund (Lotto) capping its contributions to sport federations at R2 million a year, SSA CEO Shaun Adriaanse said the swimming body, which produced two gold medals and one silver at last year's London Olympic Games, would struggle in the build-up to the 2016 showpiece in Rio.

“If the situation remains unchanged, we will have to operate on a reduced budget in this cycle to Rio 2016,” Adriaanse said.

“This will of course impact on our ability to prepare for and deliver at the 2016 Games.”

Chad_Cameron Some of South Africa's swimmers may have to pay their own way to Rio in 2016. Gallo Images

Adriaanse placed the onus on government, Lotto, and the media to assist in raising the profile in smaller sporting codes if they hoped to rake in medals at major global events.

“The Lotto needs to consider its grant allocation in line with Sascoc and government's prioritising of sporting codes, especially for federations with proven performance and delivery track records,” he said.

“Government needs to make a bigger financial contribution to priority Olympic codes... and needs to assist in securing equitable broadcasting in relation to airtime and rights fees revenue.

“This will in turn assist federations to secure corporate support.”

The SA lightweight men's fours rowing team powered their way to a gold medal at the London Games, and though Rowing SA president Wimpie du Plessis said they were struggling to garner support despite their recent success, she believed there was a solution.

“The sporting codes that are prioritised to deliver medals at the Olympics should be given an audience to the decision makers at Lotto and the Sports Ministry to enable us to motivate the funding we would need to prepare our crews for 2016 and beyond,” Du Plessis said.

The federations should present costs and budgets to an evaluation committee, she said, in line with results achieved in an accepted business plan.

Tennis SA (TSA) was unable to keep either of its major tournaments, the SA Open and Soweto Open, on last year's calendar, but the sports ministry has thrown a lifeline, offering R5 million to stage the Soweto event later this month.

And while TSA chief executive Ian Smith said they were managing to stay afloat, they did not want to use their reserve funds to do so.

“I know government supports sport in a big way, but we need to expose all citizens to as many sports as possible, and tennis is a lifetime sport,” Smith said.

New Cycling SA (CSA) general manager Mike Bradley said the sport was in a “sound financial position” to survive, but not to ensure cyclists were competing at the highest international levels.

“CSA is in desperate need of additional funding to achieve goals and objectives set by Sascoc and that of the SA public in general,” Bradley said.

While British Cycling received £32 million (R446 million) from Sport England alone in the build-up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Bradley said CSA received grants of a little more than R4 million a year.

“It's very difficult to continually identify, develop, and grow the talent that we have.”

SA Hockey Association chief executive Marissa Langeni also pointed recently to the funding received by British athletes, and said South African sport struggled to compete without similar resources.

Great Britain, who entered 541 athletes as hosts of last year's Olympics, finished third in the table with 65 medals. South Africa, with a team of 125, were 23rd with six medals.

“It is our view that the available funding is not sufficient to deliver on the massive mandate of high performance sport,” Langeni said.

“UK Sport had already in December 2012 confirmed funding to the tune of £347 million for their Project Rio 2016.

“The level of financial support for our Olympic programme is just not enough.”

While troubled codes like Athletics SA, also without a major sponsor and marred by years of in-fighting and corruption, were in danger of attracting negative media coverage and chasing away sponsors, Sascoc chief executive Tubby Reddy agreed that government needed to increase its financial contributions.

“Our government says sport is a nation builder, and for the National Sports Plan to work, it has always been clear that funding is crucial,” Reddy said.

“Treasury must make those finances available because we can't make these systems and plans work under the current budget.” – Sapa



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