Melodic welcome for basketball team

Bongani Magasela

Bongani Magasela

Different countries have various ways of welcoming home conquering heroes. In South Africa they are welcomed with song.

This happened to the South African wheelchair basketball team on their arrival from Morocco yesterday where their victory over the Moroccans in the finals of the Paralympics qualifier made them the country's first team to qualify for the Beijing event next year.

The only other time South Africa had taken part at the Paralympic Games was at Sydney in 2000, but then the team was included by default because Egypt were thrown out of the competition.

The Sasol-bankrolled team became the first South African team to achieve that feat last Sunday after defeating Morocco 68-61 in front of a hostile crowd at the Omnisports Stadium in Rabat.

Sunday's result was the culmination of five-and-a-half weeks of non-stop basketball following a six-match Test series against the Netherlands at Mandeville in Johannesburg and Durban.

They then went to Algeria where they won gold at the All Africa Games. That was their first objective and there was no way they could not achieve their second feat after winning the All Africa Games, said jubilant coach Viv Sierra.

Captain Marius Papenfus said winning the All Africa Games was the morale booster.

"We had this winning momentum when we went to Morocco. In fact, all players gave their all," said the 30-year-old point guard from Pietermaritzburg.

His teammates hammered Kenya 128-28 in the second round robin match last Wednesday but lost 57-51 to Morocco on Thursday.

They regrouped and beat Egypt 71-53 in the semifinals on Saturday before walloping Morocco, the hosts, 68-61 in the final.

Their victories in the All Africa Games and in the Para- lympics qualifiers catapulted them to the number one spot in Africa. Team Sasol, as they are called, were given an emotional, melodic welcome.