ASA off-track drama could take another turn
As athletes carry hopes of the nation, it seems this debacle is here until 2020
Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya spearhead what promises to be the strongest South African athletics team at a world championships when they head into battle in London on Friday.
Four medals, two of them gold, is the best the country has done to date, at the Paris showpiece in 2003.
Van Niekerk and Semenya are gunning for doubles, and with long-jumper Luvo Manyonga, could notch up at least four gold medals. Akani Simbine and Ruswahl Samaai, SA's other form jumper, are also in the frame.
This sort of firepower should have dominated the headlines this past week, but instead they were overshadowed by the antics of Athletics SA (ASA), which discarded 14 athletes from the team.The off-track drama could take an interesting turn this week as the men's 4x100m relay outfit looks set to crack a late invitation, following the reported withdrawal of three teams, suddenly bringing them into the top 16.
There are already five sprinters in the squad, but the demands of running six races could force Van Niekerk and Simbine - both openly critical of the selection policy - to withdraw, either from the heats or both.
If ASA accepts the invitation and decides to call up reinforcements, would it go for 100m specialist Henricho Bruintjies, one of the 14 it rejected?After dumping the 14 in its supposed search for excellence, ASA accepted lower level qualifiers through quota invitations, which are issued to non-qualifiers to ensure that each event comprises a predetermined number of starters.
Quota spots went to discus-thrower Victor Hogan and 100m hurdler Rikenette Steenkamp, who has withdrawn injured from the team, joining Olympic javelin silver medallist Sunette Viljoen on the sidelines.
Several of the 14 rejects are likely to feel the financial ramifications down the line, say some.
World championships were written into contracts. Some athletes would have been rewarded for going, while others may find their deals being downgraded or terminated.
When ASA first proposed the stiff standards at a meeting late last year, athletes and coaches voiced their objections.
Sources say things got heated, but there was an assurance the document was a draft. The next thing they knew it was policy.
This wasn't the first time. ASA tried to sneak in tougher criteria just six months before the Rio Olympics, but had to recant because it was too late. Retired athletes recall facing extra qualifying hurdles about 20 years ago.
Stander's hand was present on all occasions, sources say.
"Surely they should look for reasons to include athletes, not exclude them," said one coach. "Aren't we trying to grow the sport?"
The 2018 Commonwealth Games will offer some respite because the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee sets the qualifying standard - a top-10 ranking.
But with ASA board members displaying unity over the criteria, it seems this debacle is here until 2020, the next ASA poll.
Strap yourself in.