When one expresses one’s bewilderment at a clear lack of foresight from Athletics South Africa (ASA) to assemble a 4x100 metres relay team with world-class sprinters at their disposal, you are seen to be overly negative.
Inch after inch of column space has been dedicated to addressing ASA’s failure to capitalise on the wealth of rising sprinting talent in the country.
The lack of accountability so often seen in South African politics has infiltrated the country’s sport and revelations of ineptitude are brushed aside. Following the country’s failure to qualify a single relay team for the Rio Olympics, this is likely to also be the case at the IAAF World Championships in London next month.
This week the rest of the world’s media joined their SA counterparts asking why the country did not have a relay team ready to take on the rest of the world.
At a press conference ahead of the Lausanne Diamond League, 400m world record-holder Wayde van Niekerk was asked whether he would also race the 4x100m at the London World Championships next month. “I don’t think South Africa has qualified yet,” was his short and sharp reply.
The press conference carried on and it seemed the issue was gone and forgotten but the befuddled journalist asked a follow-up question a while later.
Given South Africa’s current wealth of sprinting talent with five athletes, including Van Niekerk boasting times between 9.90 and 10.10 seconds, why has the country not qualified a relay team?
“I guess, as a country we haven’t had the opportunity as much as we’d like and we just have to find a way to gel, find some chemistry, and get to know each other’s schedules,” Van Niekerk said diplomatically.
“There’s been too many clashes for when we can run as a team because it is obviously an individual sport and everyone is focused on qualifying and getting themselves into major competitions.
“It’s really out of my control. My control is running 100, 200, and 400s which is the only part I focus on.”
Scheduling the SA Senior Track and Field Championships at the same time as the IAAF World Relays was another example of ASA sabotaging their chances of qualifying relay teams for the global showpiece.
While the national championships have traditionally been scheduled for April, the country’s athletics administrators will have to find a solution for future World Relays.
ASA have made attempts to host relay camps this year with the aim of qualifying a team during the local season. Any progress is probably better than none but it is time to make a concerted attempt to give the country’s sprinters the best possible opportunity to win a sprint relay medal.
Imagine us bowing out of the World Championships with medals in the 100, 200, 400, and the 4x100m relay.
That would signal a major shift from Jamaica and the US to the southern point of Africa. SA sprinting is at the forefront, so let’s not drop the baton.