Dear ASA and Sascoc officials, Gosh, you guys take a lot of flak, and often it is often undeserved, but on this occasion you’ve got it wrong, and you’ve done a mighty good job of it. Making late adjustments to a qualifying policy, and then failing to clarify the situation at the last minute, is totally unreasonable.
It is also illogical to release a qualifying policy that states certain objectives must have been achieved in the past in order to qualify for the Rio Games. You don’t have to know anything about road running to understand that it is not possible for a marathon runner to enter a race that was held last year. It is equally unfair to give them one more chance to achieve belated criteria by providing 42km specialists with eight days’ notice that they must run the national championships or give up on their Olympic dreams.
It takes a marathon runner at least four months to prepare for a race, in a gruelling discipline that allows them to compete only two or three times a year, and the majority of the nation’s top athletes have already committed to overseas races in order to achieve the required qualifying standards.
To be clear, I am 100% in support of the decision to force marathon runners to compete at the SA 42km Championships once over a two-year period to earn selection for major events. For this to be a reasonable demand, however, you need to notify them at least one year in advance, offer decent prize money to compensate for potential loss of income at major international races, and ensure the route is both recognised by the IAAF and “fast” enough to allow them to qualify for championship events.
By insisting most Olympic marathon contenders must turn out in East London today, you are ensuring that South Africa’s top marathon runners will not compete in Rio. Sascoc, I’m well aware that the latest qualifying policy was designed by ASA, and the team selected by the federation must be ratified by you in line with your qualifying policy.
But you waited until yesterday to issue a statement, the day before the national championships, and rather than clarifying this situation for the athletes, you have created more confusion by referring to clauses in conflicting policies. It doesn’t matter how you try to defend it, this decision is incredibly unfair and nonsensical. Your role as governing bodies is to ensure the nation has the best possible team at the Rio Olympics.
This latest move will have the opposite effect and potential medal contenders will be left at home. By enforcing a late decision, and then making a vague offer for clarity, you have let the athletes down. I implore you to reconsider this decision. Not for me, or for yourselves, but for the people who are directly affected – individuals who have worked most of their lives to achieve a dream.
They have all made tremendous sacrifices and have committed to long-term goals in order to give themselves a chance of becoming Olympians. If you have any regard for them, abide by your own constitutions and support these potential stars as they chase the Olympic qualifying standards. At the very least, don’t build barriers to place in their way. That’s not what you’re there to do.