Justine Palframan is in danger on not qualifying for the Commenwealth Games. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Athletics in South Africa was such an unappealing investment prospect over the last decade that corporates would not touch the sport with a 10-foot barge pole.

This week, though, Athletics SA (ASA) and Stillwater Sports announced a new three-meet series set for March 2018 ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. Although there is no sponsorship attached to the series yet there are signs that the length of the pole is slowly but surely shrinking.

The athletes have largely been responsible for the more optimistic outlook for the sport while a sense of stability in the ASA boardroom has also made a small contribution. Unfortunately, ASA is still prone to the odd brain fart such as their restrictive qualifying criteria that hamstrings instead of promotes development.

The argument over the purpose of the stringent qualifying standards is something that ASA and the rest of the world have to agree to disagree about.

The federation argues that setting tougher standards than that of the IAAF will lift the standards of the sport.

One only has to speak to the athletes on the ground to see the devastation it causes which includes athletes giving up on the dream of representing the country at major championships. There is also the possible harm of athletes being pressured too early to perform beyond their ability instead of developing naturally.

These standards in general do not affect the top athletes such as Wayde van Niekerk, Caster Semenya, and Luvo Manyonga but crushes the hopes of those on the fringes waiting to break through.

Two of the country’s top female athletes, Gena Lofstrand and Justine Palframan, are operating on a dangerous level to earn qualification for the Commonwealth Games.

They have taken only a two-week break after the end of the season to reach the qualifying times during the window between August 1 and December 31.

These two and many others risk serious injury due to over-racing, and a lack of a good base through a proper winter programme.

ASA president Aleck Skhosana this week cooed about how the new series would contribute towards the South African team’s preparations for the Commonwealth Games.

Kudos to them and Stillwater Sports for creating opportunities to race but have they done enough to truly aid the athletes?

SA will return from the Games with the odd medal from the usual suspects that have been given time to rest following a long season. But what about the missing middle?

Athletics has arguably been the top South African sport on the global stage over the last three years. The sport teams with role models such as Van Niekerk, Semenya, Akani Simbine, and Anaso Jobodwana. Surely, this is enough reason for corporates to consider investing in track and field.

The launch of the series is a step in the right direction and frankly one that is long overdue for the country’s deserving athletes.

Next year’s series is oddly placed in a season that kicks off early with the Commonwealth Games and ends with the Continental Cup in September.

It has the potential to grow in stature and it could offer international athletes the right incentive to come to our shores.

The continent is a powerhouse in the sport and it is about time Africans see the value of our own athletes.

In other good news, it seems like long-suffering athletics fans will have their prayers answered as the series is expected to be broadcast on public television. Live, delayed live. Who cares?


Saturday Star

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