JOHANNESBURG – South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee president, Barry Hendricks said the organisation will do a broad introspection following what he described as a concerning medal haul at the Tokyo Olympics that finished last Sunday.
Swimmer Tatjana Schoeman and surfer Bianca Buitendag, won South Africa’s only medals at the Summer Games, with the total of three medals – including Schoeman’s gold in the 200m breaststroke – a disappointing return compared to the previous two Games’.
“Sascoc is concerned that the medal count since London and Rio has dropped markedly,” Hendriks said Friday. In London in 2012, South Africa won six medals from four different sports and in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, 10 medals across five sports.
“This reminds me of the return from Beijing (2008) and the actions and steps we took in our reflections thereafter. One of the key things that came out of that, was a drastic increase in the funding of athletes’ support,” Hendriks remarked. Khotso Mokoena’s long jump silver medal was the only one won by a South African athlete in 2008..
Hendriks pointed to how R100 million was spent in the build up to the London and Rio Games, that included, he said, between R21 million and R27 million being spent per year to support athletes. Most of that money was sourced from the National Lottery, but that figure diminished drastically in 2017 to just R5-million a year.
Starting with the athletes themselves, Hendricks said that Sascoc would also meet with federations, Sascoc’s own management and the Ministry of Sport, Art and Culture to map a way forward. “We need to look at this matter in a responsible manner. How do we address engaging with our athletes to allow them to grow from this experience and to build up to the next Olympics In Paris,” asked Hendriks?
Besides funding, Hendriks also said that the effects of the Covid pandemic, and for athletes, the many lockdowns that occurred, had a material effect on performances in Tokyo. “We must take into account the role of the lockdowns too. When we were at the height of the pandemic, Europe was starting to open up; athletes over there could train and compete and our athletes were training one week and then the facilities were closed because of lockdown.”
On the matter of incentives for Schoeman and Buitendag, Hendriks, stressed that both would be receiving bonuses for their performances in Tokyo. He added that Sascoc had to find ways to avoid the controversy that erupted when it was first reported that athletes would not be paid, and the fact that Sascoc didn’t announce an incentive scheme before the Games as was done for previous Olympics in Beijing, London and Rio. “We have to look at a more positive approach, in terms of Sascoc simply relying on outside partners to provide this funding.”
“We’ve got to set up our own trust, our own kitty, so that when it comes to Paralympics, the Olympics, the All Africa Games and the Commonwealth Games – we can say ‘this is our our budget and this how much we will give our athletes from this budget,’” said Hendriks. “We’ve got to consolidate funding for incentives under one umbrella, and the sole use for that funding is for incentives.”
A variety of crowdfunding campaigns, including one led by former Springbok wing, Bryan Habana, this week collected close to R1-million that will be shared between Schoeman and Buitendag.
Meanwhile Hendriks was looking forward to meeting with Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who earlier this week said Sascoc would have to account for the performance of the SA team in Tokyo.
“Our engagement with the minister is vital. It is critical to create a common understanding of the way forward and it’s important that we speak with one voice,” said Hendriks.