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Sunette Viljoen prepares for last shot at gold amid challenging sporting conditions

By Sameer Naik Time of article published Oct 11, 2020

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Olympic medallist Sunette Viljoen has opened up about the difficulties she faces as a professional athlete in South Africa.

The javelin athlete, who claimed a silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in Brazil, says she receives no support from South Africa’s Olympic governing body Sascoc nor from Athletics South Africa, to help her achieve her dreams as a talented athlete.

“It’s a total disgrace,” Viljoen told The Saturday Star this week. “You can’t even compare the treatment of our athletes to Springbok rugby players or the Proteas. They are appreciated.

“It’s much easier for male sport stars in South Africa to get recognition, sponsorship deals and lucrative financial contracts.”

For years, the 37-year-old has been been forced to fend for herself to achieve her dreams as a professional javelin athlete. She receives no financial backing from any sports body, and personally fund her ambitions of becoming one of the best in the world.

“I don’t receive a single cent from a sponsor or sporting federation. Athletics SA and Sascoc are the ones that are supposed to support.”

And Sascoc hasn’t changed their stance on supporting their athletes for the upcoming 2021 Tokyo Olympics either. In an attempt to get to next year’s Olympic games, Viljoen has started a BackaBuddy campaign.

Viljoen, who is also a capped ODI and Test cricketer for the women’s national team, said she wants to fulfil her goal of getting a gold medal, but she does not have the financial backing.

“It’s extremely challenging and heartbreaking, especially when you look at other top athletics countries’ treatment and support of their athletes. No financial support means I have to worry about all my daily expenses, like accommodation, food, transport and medical aid. Life is expensive.”

Viljoen also admits it hasn’t been easy starting the BackaBuddy campaign to ask others for money.

“I hate every second of it,” she says. “In order to gain momentum, I have to ask people daily for donations and it’s not the kind of person I am, but I have no other option.

“We’re in a difficult time and I understand that so many people are in difficult financial situations. I’m busy getting ready for next year’s Olympics in Tokyo‚ but I don’t have the support. I don’t have an Olympic contract.

“I want the gold medal so I can become the Olympic champion. I can’t have the necessary motivation if I don’t have the financial backing to get to Tokyo.”

Having brought pride to the country with her numerous achievements over the past few years, Viljoen says she feels it is a kick in the face that sports federations in the country refuse to help her with preparation for the Olympics.

“I often cry about it. It leaves such a bitter taste in my mouth. So many of us are just left out in the cold to fend for ourselves.” Viljoen has also opened up about her turbulent relationship with Sascoc.

“I’ve always had to beg them for assistance and my public criticism of them is no secret.” Despite the lack of financial support from any of SA’s sports bodies, Viljoen says she is pushing hard and fighting to make sure she is fit and ready for the Olympic games.

“People will never know exactly how many litres of sweat and (often) tears it takes to dust yourself off after disappointments and get going again.

“I refuse to give up on my dreams and that is the motivation behind me training six days a week.”

Viljoen‚ knows it could be her last shot at Olympic glory. The gold medal at that particular event has eluded her. But she is determined to achieve her goal this time round, with or without the financial backing.

“Nothing will stand in the way of the belief I have in myself that I can still win that elusive Olympic gold medal. My inner drive is something money can’t buy.”

To donate to Viljoen’s campaign, visit BackaBuddy’s website.

The Saturday Star

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