YET another accolade will soon be presented to Sam Ramsamy, internationally recognised sports administrator and activist.
The 85-year-old Ramsamy will be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) as a Class of 2023 “honoree” for his life-long contribution to the sport.
An induction ceremony will be held in Fort Lauderdale, US, on September 30, which will include sensations like Michael Phelps (US) and Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry, who will receive similar recognition as Ramsamy.
Phelps is the most accomplished Olympian in history, with 28 medals, while Coventry, currently her country’s minister of youth, sports, arts and recreation, is the joint record holder for Olympic medals won (7) by a female swimmer.
Ramsamy remains active in swimming, and is vice president of World Aquatics, formerly Fina, an honorary life vice president of Swimming SA and the sport’s head in Africa.
Propagating water safety, a campaign spearheaded by Swimming SA, is a project that has Ramsamy’s deep involvement.
He was born and raised in Durban’s old “Magazine Barracks” area, formerly located near the Durban Magistrate’s Court building.
He went into exile in the UK in the 1970s because of his anti-apartheid activism. There, Ramsamy played a prominent role with others in championing for an international sports boycott of South Africa.
When South Africa returned to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) fold and participated in the 1992 Olympics, Ramsamy led SA’s delegates in Barcelona.
In 1995, he became an IOC member, and in 2006, he was moved to their executive committee, an office he held for eight years. At age 80 (2018), he completed his active term in office with the IOC and is presently an honorary member.
Ramsamy said he was excited about the upcoming ISHOF recognition.
“It is among the best accolades I have ever received, and its from a supreme body that recognises people in swimming.”
Ramsamy, who has received honorary doctorates and the National Order of Ikhamanga-silver previously, said it would be an honour to be inducted alongside Phelps and Coventry.
Ramsamy ranks him becoming an IOC member in 1995 as his greatest ever achievement.
“It was a big deal in the 1990’s for me because we continuously fought with the IOC to ensure SA was blocked from Olympic sport participation.
“At first, they were very right wing with their stance on SA. Since the 1980s, the IOC‘s new leadership became sympathetic to the anti-apartheid movement’s cause and duly retained SA’s suspensions and non-participation in the Olympics until 1992.”
Ramsamy said it was a honour to lead SA’s athletes into the stadium for Barcelona’s opening ceremony because he was at the forefront of blocking the country’s participation previously.
“I was able to do this in the presence of Nelson Mandela, who sat in a suite for presidents, even though he was not the head of State at the time.”
Another big “political” moment for Ramsamy was when the ANC included him on the main committee, alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu, handling the planning of Mandela’s presidential inauguration.
While Ramsamy was actively involved with athletics and football from a young age, he had a deep affinity for swimming.
“I have always been deeply involved with swimming and became a member of the Durban Indian Surf Lifesaving Club and got involved with coaching many top black swimmers during apartheid times, mainly at the Asherville pool.”
Ramsamy said Balkumar Singh taught him swimming at the Durban bay as a youngster.
“Growing up in Magazine Barracks, which was within walking distance of the sea, I had a fascination with swimming. At night we could hear the sound of the sea from our homes that were either tin shanty or brick.
“When it was sardine or shad season, as boys, we would help seine netters and received fish as rewards, which pleased our parents.”
He said the area was populated by municipal workers, including his father, Rungan, who was actively involved in community work.
“To some extent, my activism came from him.”
Ramsamy said: “I played a tiny part in the democratising of SA. There were thousands of us who played a part.”
Swimmer Chad Le Clos said Ramsamy deserved the recognition.
“I call him uncle Sam because he has been a great help to me and my family since we first met at the start of my career in the youth Olympics and handed me my first gold medal. He has been a great servant in revolutionising the sport.
“Without him, I respectfully say, we would have been still in the dark ages because he helped to create change and transformation.”
Le Clos said the country needed people like him who stood up and took charge of our situation.
Barry Hendriks, president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, said: “Sascoc extends its heartfelt congratulations to its Honorary President, Dr Sam Ramsamy.”
Hendricks described Ramsamy as “a living legend, a beacon of inspiration within the realms of sports”.
“He holds the distinction of being the inaugural President of the National Olympic Committee of South Africa (NOCSA), now known as Sascoc,” said Hendriks.