Making A Difference

So we all know that the athletics federation of South Africa is, let’s say, a beleaguered federation. With infighting in the boardroom and a National Olympic body stirring and scratching where it has no business, it would seem that the sport is dying.

But it isn’t, because there are people out there who are going about the business of keeping it alive. Let’s be brutally honest, it is not the federation’s job to organize events (i.e. Soweto Marathon, the former Absa and then Yellow Pages Series), it is in fact their responsibility to get teams to international competitions, provide structures that allow the sport to grow (a sore point right now, but hopefully not for long) and look at ways and means of commercialising, marketing and giving the sport exposure.

Provinces and clubs are in fact mandated to put on events to give athletes the possibilities to compete. And this is why I absolutely love what Donald Mathipa of Thembisa is doing.

He is putting on a street mile on 30 November. By using Facebook and his ever-growing contacts in the media, Mathipa has created a hype among the athletics fraternity that I have not seen for a long time.

The big names of South African middle distance running will be there. The likes of Stephen Mokoka, Elroy Galant, Jerry Motsau and Thapelo Madiba make up some of the 32 strong field.

32 STRONG! That is unbelievable. The women’s field boasts 24 athletes. Such has been Mathipa’s enthusiasm, he had Soweto TV ask him to come into studio and announce the Elite entries live on air.

Mathipa has begged, borrowed and pleaded with sponsors to come on board and the net effect is that he is able to pay prize money, have chip timing and is taking the sport to the masses. And that is key; opportunity and showcasing the sport to the masses.

That is what will grow the sport. Jean Verster, a former middle distance great in the heyday of Johan Fourie, did something similar earlier in the year. He put on a 1 000m for men and women and a 3 000m for men as part of a schools athletics program. The races were run back to back and in the space of less than an hour, high schools from the Central North West area had witnessed Olympians competing and a new South African best time to boot. Elroy Galant said after setting the fastest ever inland time for 3 000m, that every time he came into the home straight, the crowd in the grand stand started cheering madly and that lifted him to no end.

Again the event was on a low/no budget. All people need to do is box clever to get things done. That said though we are in a professional era and while events such as Mathipa’s street mile and Verster’s “school event” are great and vital, we still need the clubs and provinces to take control of events and put them on themselves … Just as it happened in the “heyday” of South African athletics.