South Africa have been to seven Commonwealth Games since 1994 and have finished fifth in the medals on three occasions (Kuala Lumpur 1998, Melbourne 2006 and New Delhi 2010).
The country slipped to seventh in Glasgow in 2014 with a total medal count of 40 (13 gold, 10 silver and 17 bronze). And the team excelled in Australia this time given the limitations placed on the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) in selecting the team.
The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) limited South Africa to select only 99 individual athletes.
South Africa could easily have finished higher in the medals table were they allowed to select a larger team. The gold and silver medals the amateur wrestlers earned is an example of what can be achieved when we show faith in our athletes.
This should also serve as a lesson ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games where continental qualification will once again not count for selection.
Track and field was the top performing code at the Games with 14 medals – five gold, four silver, and five bronze. The scary part is that this was not the strongest possible athletics team SA could have selected for the quadrennial showpiece.
South Africa should have selected a much larger team to the Games which would have boosted their chances of bagging more medals based on the law of averages.
Athletes like Dominque Scott-Efurd and Justine Palframan were left at home and could have pushed for medals or at least raced in finals at the Games.
South Africa’s gender parity also left a lot to be desired and selecting more women at future championships should be a priority. Caster Semenya, Wenda Nel, and Sunette Viljoen were the only women in the track and field team with all three winning medals.
Sascoc president Gideon Sam said before the Games that some of the federations did not play their part in ensuring South Africa selected the strongest team.
“We have to perform to get better representation, and I feel sorry for the athletes that 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. Yet they were frustrated when some of the federations dropped the ball.”
It can also be argued that South Africa didn’t take the strongest possible track and field team based on form due to the qualifying window that was set between August 1 and December 31, 2017. That was in the middle of the athletes’ off-season while some in-form athletes did not get the nod for the Games as they posted fast times after the deadline had passed.
Sprinters like Simon Magakwe and Luxolo Adams were among the top three fastest men in South Africa over the 100m and 200m respectively during the local athletics season. The same counts for some of the 400m hurdlers but the reality is they did not qualify within the window period and could not be selected.
Athletics South Africa should consider making use of a trials system like Swimming SA has used for many years. Kenya hosted trials at the end of February which makes one wonder why South Africa had a different deadline to submit a team to the CGF.