IOL Sport's athletics writer Ockert de Villiers.
A combination of obstinance and irrational reasoning has characterised Athletics South Africa’s (ASA) selection policies over the last few years, but we seem to be turning a corner.

ASA have been notoriously bad at selecting athletics teams since the build-up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Poor communication, last-minute changes to the criteria or ridiculously high standards have been the major hurdles thrown at the athletes in their quest for national duty.

ASA seemed to ignore the protests and pleadings from athletes and other stakeholders as they stuck with a policy of pigheadedness. But the athletics body have been making positive strides towards creating a more equitable system and the criteria is now communicated more openly.

Two team selections over the last few weeks suggest ASA have the ability to reason logically. ASA first announced a 40-member squad for the Athletics World Cup in London where eight of the world’s best track and field nations will compete over two days.

The team seemed to have been assembled based on the top performances in each of the 15 individual events for men and women in South Africa this year. They quite simply selected the top-ranked athlete in each event this season, sending the strongest possible team to the meeting.

The same happened when a preliminary squad for the 2018 African Athletics Championships was released over the last week. Again ASA used solid logic by selecting athletes who have met the criteria and were among the best in their individual events  in a sport where there can be little discrimination with distances, heights and times determining who is the best.

Selectors would obviously have to make judgment calls in some events such as pole vaulting and high jump where athletes may share the same season’s best. But in general team selection should not be a complicated process and while injuries or unavailability will have an effect ,one could quite simply pick the second or third best athlete in an event.

This has not always been the case and hopefully, these teams will lay the foundation for next year’s IAAF World Championships in Qatar and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

It may sound silly to praise ASA for using logic, but this has not always been the case. Just last year the athletics wreaked havoc by introducing their own, stricter selection criteria to that of the IAAF for the World Championships in London. While it is each federation’s prerogative to select teams, it should not be done to the detriment of the sport and in such a way that the athletes are discouraged.

One only has to look at the response from athletes who missed out on last year’s global showpiece by not earning selection for the World Cup. The World Cup is likely to expose South Africa’s lack of depth but it has the potential to grow it.

ASA are also targeting the African Championships next month to expose more talent to a major track and field event. They also seem to be making a concerted effort to growing relay teams good enough to not only qualify for the World Championships and Olympics but also challenge for medals. That is progress and speaks of an organisation willing to learn from their mistakes to create a culture of excellence.


Saturday Star

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