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RSA Cannot Afford World Titles Campaign

Apr 1, 2013  - Craig Lord

"Pathetic" is how Bert Le Clos, star of the stands at London 2012 when his son Chad claimed the name Phelps Slayer with victory why a whisker in the 200m butterfly, has described South Africa's inability to pay for its team to attend the FINA World Swimming Championships in Barcelona this summer.

Le Clos was responding to news that South African swimmers, including his son and the nation's other Olympic champ at London 2012, Cameron Van der Burgh, must foot their own bills to race at world titles because their cash-strapped federation cannot fund their way.

Swimming South Africa CEO Shaun Adriaanse confirmed that swimmers heading to Spain would have to pay for their own flights and accommodation for the championships, which start on July 19. Those who do fund their own way will be hosted, as in 2012 before London, in Monte Carlo by former South Africa international and now Princess Charlene of Monaco.

The irony of the situation is that FINA has a vast pot of money that it invests in development swimmers (two for each nation) to attend the world titles, packages including travel and accommodation. South Africa is not among the top 10 swim nations in the world; nor is it a development nation, its best swimmers well beyond the standard at which they would attract assistance. 

Meanwhile, the South Africa federation lost its major sponsor last year as Telkom pulled the plug on a US$1.25 million a year deal - and that in an Olympic year with two champions at the helm of the programme, Van Der Burgh's crown delivered in the 100m breaststroke, while Le Clos also took silver in the 100m butterfly, behind Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian of all-time with a collection of 22 medals, 18 of them gold.

Adriaanse and the fed have sought new backers - to no avail. Le Clos, who manages his son Chad, told the Sunday Times: "It's pathetic that you have to (buy) your own flight tickets. It's a disgrace when you consider the amount of medals and glory swimmers bring to this country. There are other teams, which I don't want to point out, that get millions but bring back nothing."

He was speaking about the domestic scene. Swimming finds its place in a market. In international waters, it hard to think of a team that can claim "millions" in support but emerged from London 2012 with "nothing", while many who got plenty must manage with relatively modest budgets compared to those in sports that attract bigger audiences on a regular basis on play day. Germany and Italy were among teams that had a poor Games, though neither are backed by "millions" in terms of flow of funds to athletes and programmes. Germany has swum in troubled waters of late though it still ranks above South Africa in terms of international meet and rankings results despite having won no medals at the Games for the first time since 1932.

Politics is in the mix in South Africa. On the one hand, Fikile Mbalula, South Africa's sports minister, says he was unaware of the plight of the swim federation; on the other, the media in South Africa revealed that the minister tried to intervene on the federation's behalf when Telkom withdrew their sponsorship. The two things don't quite add up.