JOHANNESBURG - Selecting the South African team for the 2018 Commonwealth Games was one of the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s (Sascoc) toughest tasks in recent years.
Sascoc president Gideon Sam said the team needed to improve their performance from the previous Games to increase its allotted spots for all individual sporting codes for the next edition in four years’ time.
“It has been very difficult, we ended up in court where some athletes said we were unfair to them,” Sam said at a farewell function ahead of the team’s departure for the multi-coded event. “That is why it is important that we push up our position on the medal table because that gives you a good number for Birmingham 2022.”
South Africa has been to six Commonwealth Games since 1994 and they have finished fifth on the medals table on three occasions (Kuala Lumpur, 1998; Melbourne, 2006 and New Delhi, 2010). The country slipped down the table at Glasgow 2014, finishing seventh with a total medal count of 40 (13 gold, 10 silver and 17 bronze).
Sam said he believes South Africa has selected the strongest possible team to rake in the medals and add a few more slots for Birmingham.
“We have to perform to get better representation, and I feel sorry for the athletes who were on the margins,” Sam said.
“You have to make a choice if you say, 99 individuals, what do you do? Do you say I am going to take away from this sport?
“But under Dr Debbie Alexander, the high-performance commission did a fantastic job. They were frustrated where some of the federations dropped the ball.”
The limited, allotted slots have caused some tensions between Sascoc and the federations. When the initial team was announced in January, only 13 track and field athletes were included in the 169-member squad.
Sascoc has since added a few more names including a 4x100m relay team, a distance runner, and two field athletes.
“We don’t own athletes, they (federations) make recommendations to us, and say these are the best athletes,” Sam said. “Against the criteria, we’ll say here and there you are short, this one didn’t go through those qualifications. You have to go according to the criteria.”
Caster Semenya was named as South Africa’s flag bearer for the quadrennial showpiece.
Semenya, who was flag bearer at the London 2012 Olympic Games, has her sights set on the 800-1500m double gold.
“It is quite special, I feel honoured to lead the team onto the field. Being flag bearer comes with responsibility,” Semenya said. “It would hopefully serve as motivation to the young ones and it shows anything is possible through hard work and dedication.”