IOL athletics writer Ockert de Villiers.

There is no doubt South African track and field is going through a blooming good period but looking at the draft of next year’s fixtures, Athletics SA is in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

ASA, along with Stillwater Sports, introduced the three-meet Athletix Grand Prix Series which was a huge success breathing new life into the sport.

Both should be commended for what they did and with a few tweaks, it could be an even better offering in future.

One senses that ASA is getting a bit greedy releasing a chock-a-block preliminary calendar for 2019 in what would be an abnormally long athletics season.

The IAAF World Championships in Doha will only be hosted at the end of September with the local season kicking off in early March with three meetings over three consecutive weeks while an ASA SA Club Championships will be added to the end of that month.

The programme becomes even more congested in April with three Athletix Grand Prix Series meetings, the SA Senior Championships, and the SA Students all happening in the same month.

The meetings continue unabated into May with another ASA meeting planned for the middle of the month while some athletes may feature at the IAAF World Relays while the international season will kick off with the Doha and Shanghai Diamond Leagues.

It means there is no reprieve for South Africa’s elite athletes as they will then feature on the international circuit until the world championships.

This year ASA is expected to introduce a new addition to the calendar when they plan to host a ‘world-class event’ on Sunday, August 12.

That date is slap bang in the middle of the majority of South Africa’s track and field athletes’ winter programme.

While the meeting will be looking to attract elite athletes they will still have to fill the lanes with the up and coming athletes or those on the fringe of the elite level.

ASA will argue that they are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t and while it is their prerogative to host whatever events they want, some prudence needs to be applied.

It also does not mean the country’s top athletes will be available to race in these local meetings as they have international obligations governed by their respective sponsorship contracts.

This brings us to the next possible problem where athletes will be forced to race an X-amount of the local events if they want to be selected for national teams.

This has been applied in the past which has the opposite of the intended effect where athletes feel disenfranchised and quit the sport.

Kudos to ASA for trying to create a platform for athletes to gain experience but it would make more sense to first build on the success of the Athletix Grand Prix Series.

Creating a truly world-class event that will attract the best athletes in the world will naturally fill lanes and lineups in the field to necessitate a second-tier competition for other athletes.

Next year is also crucial for the buildup to the Tokyo 2020 Games and a congested schedule could leave athletes flat-footed in the year when they should be performing at their best.


Saturday Star

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