IOL Sport's athletics writer Ockert de Villiers.
The tightrope Athletics SA (ASA) has to walk when selecting teams to represent the country reminds one of a quote by English poet John Lydgate.

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

The criticism levelled against them over the last few years has been largely justifiable but they do seem to be trying to run a tighter ship. This is evident from ASA’s recent annual general meeting in Johannesburg where a number of new initiatives were announced.

But there is still a lot of unhappiness among athletes and coaches about the lack of consistency when it comes to communicating what is exactly required to earn team selection.

This week Comrades Marathon women’s winner Ann Ashworth publicly declined selection for the World 100km Championships in Croatia.

Ashworth took a stand because she felt the Federation was not doing enough to support road running athletes in the country.

“Thanks @ASAathletics (ASA) but until you actually start doing something to assist road runners in our country with funding and other support I’m not happy to compete in SA colours #nosupport #notworking #notbeingused,” Asworth said in a scathing Tweet.

Asworth received praise for her stand against ASA while some questioned her loyalty to the country.

“It is not about being rewarded for my selection to the team. It’s about ASA channelling funding into the development of athletes over time so that they can be selected to represent their country. Without support very few athletes have the means to reach their full potential,” she said in a response to one of her followers.

Ashworth had given up her full-time job as a lawyer in the pursuit of her Comrades dream which left her with a mountain of debt. When she tried to approach ASA for funding she was told the Federation’s priorities were in the growing the earning potential of track and field.

While there is no doubt more should be done to support South African athletes whether they are road runners or track and field athletes, one needs to ask where the money should come from and how it should be spent.

Speak to some of the élite athletes and they would say it should go to them as they represent the country the best at major championships. Or do we spend the little money the federation has on young athletes that may or may not give South Africa a return on investment?

The role of the Federation comes into focus and some may argue that it is not their job to fund individual athletes or get involved with the élite side of things. That is perhaps better suited for the running clubs and the private sponsors who have a vested interest in the athlete.

ASA tends to claim responsibility when athletes perform well on the global stage, when in fact they have done little or nothing to support them in their growth. I will sit comfortably on the fence on this one as I feel for Ashworth but also believe athletes have some sort of an obligation when their country calls.


Saturday Star

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