why are ALL SA Olympic swimmers still white?

CHALLENGE: SSA president Jace Naidoo. Pic. Muntu Vilakazi. 15/09/2004. © ST.Swimming South Africa vice president of operations Jace Naidoo
pic muntu vilakazi
CHALLENGE: SSA president Jace Naidoo. Pic. Muntu Vilakazi. 15/09/2004. © ST.Swimming South Africa vice president of operations Jace Naidoo pic muntu vilakazi 15\09\2004

WILL London 2010 be the sixth consecutive Olympic Games at which South Africa will be represented by an all-white swimming team?

Since 1992, the post-apartheid era, the country has sent only white swimmers to the Olympic Games, with the team in 2004 being an all-male team. Swimmers have to meet stringent qualification standards set both internationally and by Swimming SA (SSA). But no black (African, coloured or Indian) swimmer has managed to attain Olympic qualification as required by SSA.

Raazik Nordien of Cape Town came close in 2004 but did not get the final nod from SSA. He took time out and later quit the sport.

Which brings us to the question: can blacks not swim? Of course blacks can swim, and competitively as well. But why can't they achieve the international success of their white counterparts, why can't they also win medals at world champs and Olympic Games?

Development of the grassroots foundation of the sports pyramid with a particular emphasis on blacks is a requirement of all South African sports federations.

Creating opportunities and exposing children in disadvantaged communities to the sport will open a huge reservoir of talent and give sports federations a larger pool of talent from which to develop elite swimmers.

So what is going on in Swimming SA, with only white swimmers becoming world-class swimmers?

It's now 17 years after sports unity, 17 years after committed declarations by all involved in unifying South African sport that talent in disadvantaged communities will be discovered and developed.

I asked Jace Naidoo, the SSA president, how he could preside over a sports domain that was not bringing black swimmers up through the ranks. Naidoo knows what I am talking about, because he comes from a non-racial swimming federation that produced talented Indian, African and coloured swimmers of both genders in the 1970s and 1980s.

But what has happened to this talent, and to this rich tradition of structured clubs, volunteer coaching, and the emergence of world-class black swimmers?

Naidoo, one of South Africa's top sports administrators, cares about all who make up the SA swimming family and knows there is pressure to demonstrate that blacks can swim and emerge as world-class competitors.

Naidoo says there are lots of talented black swimmers at younger age group levels and talks about the recent impressive showing of a group of black swimmers at the African junior champs in Mauritius. Just two weekends ago, SSA swimmer Garth Tune claimed a fourth position at the World Cup leg in Moscow.

"It's to do with infrastructure," Naidoo says. "There are no adequate facilities in disadvantaged communities where potential black swimmers can be found."

This deficiency is accounted for by SSA in their transformation guidelines document. In partnership with the University of the Western Cape, SSA runs its Centre For Excellence, primarily aimed at disadvantaged swimmers.

Together with its high performance training system, this is SSA's national fast-tracking operation because as SSA says "with a little bit of extra help, these swimmers can compete aggressively with their fellow swimmers at national level.

"Swimmers are assisted with training opportunities, kit, competition opportunities and their coaches are supported by the national coaching director. A major problem is access to warm water in winter and the need for access to heated pools.

"Several black swimmers have come through the ranks, like Jardien and Raazik Nordien and more recently Thabang Moeketsane, a Commonwealth junior medallist; Chanelle van Wyk and Garth Tune.

Thabang, Chanelle and Garth have taken part in several international events.

"SSA knows the gap should be non-existent but much of it is because of access to resources. And as much as blacks come through but fall through the system before they attain world-class status, so too do several whites.

"The black talent base is not as big as the white one because because black schools don't have swimming pools. SSA's Learn To Swim Programme is achieving admirable results - blacks are being introduced to swimming at a very early age.

"The challenge is to nurture talent and support elite development."