Celebrate Team SA

It was around the middle of last week that some people were saying to me that it had not hitherto been a good Olympic Games for South Africa.  I had to correct them.  Let us go back to 1992 and Barcelona where the South Africans returned to the Olympics after isolation to examine how misinformed such a statement indeed it is.

Elana Meyer and the men’s doubles tennis duo of Wayne Ferreira and Pietie Norval brought home two silver medals.  Four years later in Atlanta Penny Heyns swam her way to two golds, Marianne Kriel won a bronze in the pool, Hezekiel Sepeng ran his way to an 800 metre silver and Josiah Thugwane topped it all off with a marathon gold for a total of five.

At Sydney 2000 Heyns and Terence Parkin won bronze and silver respecitively in the pool while Frantz Kruger, Hestrie Cloete and Llewellyn Herbert picked up silvers in track and field for another total of five.  In Athens four years later the awesome foursome swimmers Ryk Neethling, Roland Schoeman, Darian Townsend and Lyndon Ferns won gold before Schoeman won a silver and bronze in individual events.  Mbulaeni Mulaudzi and Cloete were silver medalists in athletics while Ramon Di Clamente and Donovan Cech rowed to a bronze for a total of six.

Cameron van der Burgh


Beijing 2008 was the weakest showing with just Khotso Mokoena’s long jump silver before London 2012 combined Atlanta 96 and Athens 04 to see the team bring home three golds (Cameron Van Der Burgh, Chad Le Clos and the men’s rowers; Matthew Brittain, Sizwe Ndlovu, James Thompson and John Smith) and a total of six (Le Clos, Caster Semenya and Bridgitte Hartley).

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 11:   Lawrence BRITTAIN and Shaun KEELING of South Africa wins Silver in the Men's Pair Olympic Rowing Finals at the Lagoa Stadium on August 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by ©Christiaan Kotze/SASPA

Photo credit: Christiaan Kotze/SASPA

That is the level South Africa is at.  This country is not an Olympic super power ala the United States or China.  They win ten medals a day whereas the South Africa would love to win ten overall.  And so far it has gone very well in Rio De Janeiro.  Silvers for Van Der Burgh, Le Clos (two), the rowers (Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling) and Luvo Manyonga as well as a bronze for the sevens rugby team represent a return of six at the time of writing.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL. 12 AUGUST 2016.  Wayde van Niekerk during the  400m heats in the Olympic Stadium at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games tonight.  Copyright picture by WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN / SASPA


Allowing for the time zone difference by the time you read this Wayde Van Niekerk might well have (probably) won a medal in the men’s 400 metre and Semenya has yet to take to the track.  This means that Rio 2016 will almost certainly go down as the country’s best Games effort.  That should be celebrated.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL. 12 AUGUST 2016. Luvo Mayonga   during the  long jump heats in the Olympic Stadium at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games tonight.  Copyright picture by WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN / SASPA


Moreover Brittain and Manyonga deserve a special mention.  Brittain beat cancer and returned to rowing at the start of 2015 while Manyonga recovered from a narcotics addiction to return to jumping before his coach died three months later.  Now he is an Olympic silver medallist!  I am bankrupt on superlatives for these two South African heroes.

However superlatives are in short supply for the national broadcaster.  SuperSport has outdone itself with 13 channels, outside of Blitz and Maximo to cover just about every second of Olympic action.  For this we are most grateful.  However it is SABC that is lagging behind.  Yes, the public broadcaster is showing the Games but would it not be wonderful to see more?  You just have to buy a new television and tune it in, or play with the buttons on your existing tube to notice how much unused frequency space is available. 

Is it asking too much for SABC to have put up temporary channels for the Olympics?  Exposure is so important, not only for the sports themselves but for youngsters growing up.  I had just turned nine at the time of Barcelona 1992 and since SABC was the only broadcaster televising the Games, that was my channel of choice.  I might have been fascinated by the different countries but the different sports were equally intriguing.  Inside 17 days, this young boy was educated in as many different sporting codes.

Granted I do not have a talented sporting bone in my body but I am doubtless that there are plenty of kids with untapped potential out there that could benefit.  Imagine South Africa has a judo champion but he/she never knows they have the talent.  Had they seen it on the television during the Games, it might have struck a chord.  The next thing you know brothers and sisters are boxing or fencing, or performing gymnastics in their bedrooms … to their parents’ chagrin no doubt but that is often where it starts.

We have enough kids who want to be Itumeleng Khune in our country.  Some could be better than Simone Biles but they might not ever even know it.  That is why the public broadcaster plays such a crucial role and we have to see more sport, and indeed a wider variety of sport, on the platform that exists after all to broadcast content that is in the interest of the public. 

I believe a potential future Olympic medal is very much in the interest of the public.  You might argue that South Africa has enough problems already and has no need to be worrying about putting so-called smaller sports on the TV.  On the contrary, have we not seen how sport is an amazing avenue out of poverty?  Exhibit A: Luvo Manyonga.  You might have heard of him.  He became an Olympic silver medallist in the wee hours of Sunday morning.