We have the talent, we just need the tools to mine it
Black coaches are key to finding raw diamonds
Sport Minister Thulas Nxesi highlighted the problem of transformation when he addressed the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) council at the weekend.
The South African team that went to the 2014 Commonwealth Games was 70% white, he said, and at the Rio Olympics it was 60% white. “I hope we see further improvement in the 2018 Commonwealth Games,” he added.
Comparing the teams for the two showpieces is unhelpful: entry into the Olympics is determined purely by international qualification standards while the Commonwealth Games is open to selection as the national body sees fit.
The two also offer a few different sports, with lawn bowls, for example, not on the Olympic roster, yet it’s a key medal opportunity for SA at the Commonwealth Games.When assessing transformation, there are more telling statistics.
Since readmission, South Africa has had 45 Olympic medallists winning a total of 35 medals.
There’s nothing unusual with the medallists and medals not tallying up. In some cases, single athletes have won multiple medals, like Chad Le Clos (four), Penny Heyns and Roland Schoeman (three apiece), Caster Semenya, Cameron van der Burgh and Hestrie Cloete (two each).
Then there have been the teams that won single medals, like 12 members of the sevens rugby side in Rio, rowing (four won gold at London 2012 and two pairs took silverware at Rio 2016 and Athens 2004) and there were the four swimmers who won the freestyle relay gold in Athens.Of those 45 medallists since South Africa returned to Olympic competition at Barcelona 1992, 14 have been black — just over 30%.
Of the 14 gold medallists, four have been black — exactly one third.
Of South Africa’s 26 medallists from the last two Olympics, 10 were black — or 38%, thanks to the emergence of stars like Caster Semenya, Wayde van Niekerk, Luvo Manyonga and, in the rowing team in 2012, Sizwe Ndlovu.
Of the 21 medallists at Rio 2016, nine were black — almost 42%. And the two gold medallists were black, or 100%.
Promising statistics? Yes, they suggest South Africa is on the right track.But here comes the statistic that should shake the minister down to his boots: not one of South Africa’s Olympic medallists was trained — at the time of their success — by a black South African coach. Not one. Not a gold medallist, not a silver medallist, not a bronze medallist.
The closest was middle-distance guru Michael Seme, who took Semenya to gold and silver at the 2009 and 2011 world championships, but he was replaced by Mozambique’s 800m legend Maria Mutola several months before the 2012 Games.
And if you need proof to see that coach development is not happening, look at amateur boxing. There’s no shortage of black fighters and black coaches, but the standard of amateur boxing in this country is poor.
South African boxers haven’t won an Olympic medal since Rome 1960, the last Games South Africa competed at before international isolation (at that stage boxers had won 19 medals for SA, more than any other code at the time).
South Africa was in the wilderness for seven Games, and it took seven Games from 1992 to 2016 for South Africa to find its Olympic mojo — the 10-medal haul at Rio was South Africa’s best since 1920.In athletics, swimming, rowing, triathlon and rugby sevens, coaches and competitors have been exposed to international competition and have realised the type of work that’s required to reach the top.
But other codes, like amateur boxing, are stuck in a funk.
Most boxing people in South Africa, including myself, will tell you this country has the raw talent to beat the world.
But the tools and expertise to mine it are missing.
And if this is true of boxing, it’ll be true of most other struggling sports, especially in townships and inner cities, where the bulk of raw diamonds are being overlooked.
Common sense suggests that if more world-class black coaches across all sports can be produced, they will uncover and polish gems.
If coaches are the production lines and athletes the product, the obvious solution is to focus on expanding the conveyor belt to increase the amount of goods.
That’s when South Africans will see meaningful and lasting transformation.