“The older ones are phasing out and the younger ones aren’t pushing through,” Sam said in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
“In a normal system the old athletes are pushed from the bottom.”
Announcing the new list of athletes for Operation Excellence (Opex) –the premier funding programme for prospective Olympic and Paralympic medallists — Sam said the decline in the number of beneficiaries was due to a lack of a healthy pipeline of young talent coming through the ranks, taking the baton from the outgoing generation.
Opex consisted of three different tiers which provided varying degrees of funding and support.
He strengthened his argument by referring to the South African team’s performance at the second edition of the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing earlier this year.
“You can see with our juniors in Nanjing — taking 54 athletes and returning with one medal means there is something endemically wrong,” Sam said.
Women’s 400m hurdler Gezelle Magerman was the only medallist from the showpiece.
At the inaugural event, in Singapore in 2010, South African youth won a total of nine medals — two gold, four silver and three bronze.
“Who are the next ones coming through? There is not a single lady in swimming. Somewhere in our federations we need to relook this whole thing.
“I was terribly disappointed with what happened in Nanjing — for us to go out there and only come back with one medal is not South African.”
The list of Opex beneficiaries had been whittled down from 85 athletes to 58 which indicated a worrying decline in athletes meeting the qualifying criteria.
Those ranked in the top eight in the world in their events were included in the Olympic body’s latest top-tier funding programme.
“The numbers are not there and we need to address these areas and the federations must come to us,” he said.
“We are not cutting down because we do not have money. They (the athletes) are not performing. If they are there, nobody will be pulled back.
“We get our money from the lottery and it is a clear package — it is for our high performance programme.”
Sam also voiced his concern about the way sports were funded in the country and said it needed to be addressed to arrest the decline.
“The federations of course plead poverty, saying they don’t have the money, and I’ve been saying that the funding models for South African sport is not right,” he said.
“If you want those people to stand on their own and do this for us (develop athletes) then there is very little coming to them.
“If you look at the Lotto now, they are only supporting club development and schools. What about the federations? At some level we will implode as a nation if we do not work on it.”
He said grassroots development was hampered by an unequal balance in terms of schools feeding and contributing to sport in the country.
“In model-C schools the work is being done but the majority of the schools aren’t there yet.
“When you go to the townships and rural areas, you will see they are miles and miles behind. That is what we need to address.
“How will you get it right? You need thousands and thousands of school kids into the system of sport and up they will go.”