Battle for balance
The more I think about it, the more the current state of sport in South Africa concerns me.
As a country we demand excellence, and are expected to compete against and beat the world’s strongest athletes no matter the circumstances.
However, with only two years until the Rio Olympics commences, national governing bodies in South Africa are facing bankruptcy and Commonwealth Games medal-winners are losing funding.
While the goal is to achieve more medals at Rio 2016 than any other previous Olympic Games, in my opinion, this is never going to happen. I’m one of several athletes that no longer receive a single cent of financial assistance from the South African government.
The reality is that we have now been left to our own devices to raise money in order to ensure that we stand up in Rio and do our country proud. Ironically, the same people who removed our funding will be the first in line to shake our hands and tell us how they knew we could do it all along.
What an unfortunate position our sport finds itself in. The very foundations of sport in our country are crumbling and no one is taking any notice.
However, I don’t think it’s too late to implement positive and lasting change that will see our sports codes grow from strength to strength. By implementing the correct changes, I believe we can forge a greater unity between the governing bodies and the respective athletes.
As a point of reference, I will compare the investment in US swimmers as opposed to their South African counterparts. I have chosen the US team because they have dominated international swimming for the last few decades.
USA swimming assists their athletes in getting to competitions within the US (Grand Prixs) as well as World Cup competitions (internationally). These athletes are funded and afforded multiple opportunities to retain possession of their funding.
For example, USA swimming invests anywhere between $30 000 to $60 000 per world-ranked athlete a year. The higher your world ranking, the greater the financial assistance you will receive.
South Africans, on the other hand, have to account for every single cent spent of the rather modest monthly amounts received.
An additional bonus for US swimmers is the ability to sign endorsement agreements with any swimwear company that offers them a viable agreement. (USA swimming doesn't prevent any of their athletes from earning additional income).
The USA Swimming Federation has both Arena and Speedo signed on as team suppliers. The national team athletes have three options: wear Arena kit, wear Speedo, or wear another kit of their choice.
As far as I’m concerned, we need to be promoting professionalism throughout our sports and I can't think of a better model to try to emulate than the above. It’s clear that we, as a sports nation, are lagging behind and we need to remedy this sooner rather than later.
But back to the pool, and the last few months have been incredibly busy for me. After Doha, Dubai and Singapore, I enjoyed three days back in Phoenix before jetting off to Brazil to compete in a made-for-TV event which saw a viewership of close on 17 million people.
The last off month in Phoenix has been spent working on my general conditioning and trying to implement new stroke changes. At this point, my coach and I have a really good structure in place and I'm excited to see the long-term results that will arise from the training and stroke improvements. I'm always trying to find ways to improve and to be the best I have ever been.
I’m once again off to Asia to compete in the World Cup series which starts on Friday. First stop is Beijing, then onto Tokyo and finally ending in Singapore.
Heading into Asia, I'm a little unsure what to expect. While my competitors will be fully shaved and rested, I haven't gone through a resting phase in order to peak here. My focus right now goes beyond the World Cup meets.
The first stop on this cluster is about getting back into racing and trying to execute all the specifics we have been working on (stroke technique, racing strategies etc.) The general goal is to shake out some of the cobwebs and to try to be fast under the conditions (jetlag, sore body from travel etc).
The Tokyo stop, which features a few days later, is notoriously fast. The Japanese swimmers always come to race fast. If you're not on your A game, you could quickly find yourself missing out on a final. But I believe that by the time Tokyo rolls around, I will have overcome the jetlag, loosened up the muscles a bit and will be aiming to swim a good deal faster than in Beijing.
The playing field isn't always equal, but that isn't going to stop me from racing as fast as I can.
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