Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country. A good line. A great line. A stolen line, apparently lifted by John F Kennedy from his former school headmaster for his 1961 inauguration address. It is also the gist of the contracts signed by South African athletes with the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee.
In the agreements for Operation Excellence and participation in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, 38 paragraphs or points detail what is expected from the athletes. There are just four on what is expected from Sascoc in return.
That may be a standard in contracts signed by the athletes of other countries with their sporting authorities, but that doesn’t make it right. It is excessive and detracts from Sascoc’s oft repeated mantra of ‘athletes first’.
Athletes may see and hear evil while they are part of the Opex programme or a member of Team South Africa, but they must speak no evil, and they may not do so for a long time.
Their contracts warn that should they put Sascoc in a bad light, they could be sued for every cent invested in them.
That period extends for five years after they have retired:
“4.1.28: That the athlete undertakes for a period of five (5) years from the effective date, not to disclose or divulge in any manner whatsoever to any third party, any information gained or obtained by the Athlete in respect of any fellow Athlete and/or technical or support staff, irrespective of whether such information is obtained directly or indirectly by the Athlete is a member of the OPEX programme and/or Team South Africa.”
Before the 2008 Paralympics, Oscar Pistorius, now convicted of the murder of his girlfriend, called me from Beijing to accuse team officials of mismanagement.
He said it was a mess. Athletes had not received their team kit nor the ‘tags’ used to access the vending machines that provided water and cooldrinks at the training venues.
Sascoc officials took business class seats while disabled athletes sat in cattle class. We ran the story as a front-page lead. Sascoc were not best pleased.
The first reaction from officials was that as Pistorius was a member of Team South Africa he should not be criticising Sascoc. Then someone discovered that they had not got Pistorius to sign his contract yet. Sascoc issued a statement saying they were disappointed he had spoken to the media.
Sunette Viljoen has not signed an Opex contract since September 2015. She has been the only athlete to openly criticise Sascoc, and she has, in turn, been called a ‘liar’ and ‘negative’. On Saturday, her partner, LiMari Louw, the broadcaster, issued a statement on what she said would be the Olympic silver medallist’s “final comment on the matter”.
“Sascoc continues making Sunette out as an ungrateful liar and keep hammering on the fact that they have to date paid her about R900 000 in total to support her for Rio,” wrote Louw.
“Please note that this amount is over a time of more than four years and never amounted to more than an average of R13 000 per month. Sunette has never received a new Opex contract since September 2015 and have (sic) sent in numerous budgets at the request of Sascoc.”
Viljoen released copies of email correspondence with Sascoc in which she asked them why her grant had dropped from R20 000 in 2009 to R13 000 in 2016.
She complained of receiving payments late and inconsistently. She said she received no reply.
On Saturday, the sports minister, Fikile Mbalula gave a keynote address at the Sascoc AGM.
“We need more money,” he said. “We need to work harder and invest in sport in a similar fashion to Britain to get the best results and many medals. It’s time to have a budget focused on Olympics, every year we should get money for Olympics. I am going to advocate and motivate to the government that we get a budget for Olympics over and above the money we receive for development of sports and NFs (national federations).
“It was a difficult road to Rio but we conquered and brought home 10 medals.”
Viljoen and many of her fellow athletes did the majority of that conquering. They did the sacrificing and training, the begging and worrying to bring home medals and glory for their country. And through it all, they had a piece of paper that warns them to keep quiet and informs them: Ask not what Sascoc can do for you - ask what you can do for Sascoc. - The Star