SA’s Olympic investment: enough money and spent right?
JEANNE VAN DER MERWE and ATHANDIWE SABA
SA’s Olympic body has spent R78 million on preparing Team SA for the London Olympics with R13,8m spent on our medal hopefuls.
But, an analysis by Media24 Investigations of available spending statistics released by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), shows that not all elite athletes can expect the same level of support.
The athlete who received the most money between 2009 and 2012 was world-record holding swimmer Cameron van der Burgh. He received more than R1m towards living costs, medical expenses and travel costs, with 400m hurdles medal hopeful LJ van Zyl netting just over R900 000.
Champion middle-distance runner Caster Semenya received R480 350 from Sascoc since 2009, which she could use exclusively to participate in local and international events, as her living costs are covered by the Department of Sport and Recreation.
On the other end of the scale are latecomers to the programme, such as rowers Matthew Brittain, Lee-Ann Persse and Naydene Smith, who were allocated between R45 900 and R54 045 since October last year.
The games, to be held in London late next month, will show whether Sascoc’s spending has backed the right athletes.
By comparison, the Brazilian Olympic Committee spent the equivalent of R1.1m per year on each of its 14 top-tier Olympic medal hopefuls.
Its annual budget towards its Olympic team is R500m per year.
The Australian government allocates R1.4bn annually to its Olympic team, and the Australian Olympic Committee an additional R126m.
In South Africa, funds for top athletes are allocated under Sascoc’s high-performance programme. To be considered for the programme, which funds the costs of living, training, medical expenses and participating in local and international events, athletes have to be ranked in the top eight worldwide.
Athletes ranked from 9-12 worldwide qualify for “part-funding”.
Under the programme, athletes’ performance is under constant review, and if they don’t perform according to expectation, their funding is pulled.
This rule cost BMX cyclist Sifiso Nhlapo his Sascoc funding during the time he needed it most, in 2011, as an injury prevented him from competing for six months. He was, however, selected for the Olympic team.
Of the 58 athletes who either received Sascoc funding or were considered for funding under the high-performance programme in the past three years, 30 didn’t make it into the provisional team.
Former Commonwealth Games medallist and team ambassador Geraldine Pillay said while more could be done, the funding landscape had already improved a great deal since the 2008 Olympics.
“We are wasting money if we think we will put in all the money only months before the games begin. The athletes need to be groomed for four to eight years before they are expected to get a medal,” she said.
“I am very grateful for the funding I receive,” said javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen, “but our monthly funding cannot be compared to a South African cricket-, rugby- or soccer player, which is actually unfair, because we also represent our country.
“Consider what they get paid for a test, and their provincial contracts, plus individual sponsorships. We have to rely on grants from Sascoc which cover your expenses, and we have to hand in slips of every expense before money is reimbursed.”
Sports scientist Ross Tucker said: “The problem, in the larger scheme of things, is that SASCOC doesn’t seem to have any assurances about how much money it will receive. The funding amounts thus changed frequently, athletes were on the programme one year, and off it the next, or their amounts were cut.
“I’ve always been of the opinion that you have to commit to a three-year plan, at a minimum, for an athlete, and then persist.”
Sascoc president Gideon Sam said: “We could have done better if we had more funding, but that will always be the case. We have assisted the athletes as much as we could.”