Bafana Bafana might have snuck into the African Cup of Nations quarter-finals, narrowly avoiding elimination in the group stages, but the current mood around South African sports is that we’re in something of a recession.
That has much to do with the Proteas’ terrible Cricket World Cup showing, but also to do with the fact that people are finally waking up to the gross mismanagement that exists within so many of our sports’ governing bodies.
People like exiled sports journalist Graeme Joffe have been shouting this from the rooftops for years, but if you want a firsthand account, look no further than recently axed women’s national water polo coach, Seri Harris.
She recently wrote a blog post titled “Axed as national team coach”, and it’s a brutal account of just how much of a mess plays out away from the public eye.
Water polo, much like sports like hockey, is one of the sporting codes where our national representatives often have to cough up their own cash in order to play for their country.
Seri Harris was coaching voluntarily, which makes her treatment even worse. Let’s dive into her blog post:
On Thursday the 30th of May the World Championship water polo teams were announced. My name was not on that list as the coach which is how I found out that I had been removed as the Ladies Head Coach… but let me rewind for you..
A week prior to this announcement I was in Brno in the Czech Republic coaching the SA Ladies side that was competing in the EU Nations. Two hours before our first game I was given a call and told that the powers that be in Swimming South Africa were upset with me and that they were speaking about removing me as the head coach.
It was not confirmed but the call was a “heads up” so to speak. So here I am, half way across the world, about to start a tournament with a young group of women and I have just been told that I may get fired. I allowed myself a 10 minute cry, wiped my tears, washed my face and put on a brave face. I then got my head back into the game so that I could give the players what they deserved.
When I returned home I was waiting for a call or for someone to inform me if I would continue as coach or not. Instead the team just got announced and my name was not there.
Not even a courtesy call, although given what came before, perhaps Seri shouldn’t have been that surprised.
Ahead of the World Championship Training camp, which took place a month before she was dismissed, Seri and three other coaches picked the women’s Intercontinental team, stating that the selection process was “fair and thorough”.
Days before the training camp, one of the selectors was told she couldn’t attend, and things quickly spiralled:
So I am about to go into a training camp to select my world championship team with one out of the approved five selectors present and another random selector thrown in there who has never coached before and knows none of the players by name. The icing on the cake, was when I got told that as the Head Coach, I am allowed no say in selections.
AS THE NATIONAL TEAM COACH, I WAS NOT EVEN SHOWN THE TEAM BEFORE IT GOT SIGNED OFF AND SENT IN FOR APPROVAL.
What coach in the world has no say over their team? To make matters worse, the selectors knew none of the players, they had watched zero footage from Inter Continental in Australia and did not even coach women.
I was then faced with a dilemma – I could keep quiet, allow the malpractice and “boys club” to continue. I could sit back and just take a free ride to South Korea and go enjoy a tournament with a team that I did not pick. I did not take this volunteer job for the title. I took the position to make a difference, to try stop this kind of action and to try for once to put the players first.
Seri was open and honest with the players about what had transpired, and that ultimately sealed her fate going forward. The powers that be wanted someone who would play by their rules, and jump through their hoops, and that clearly wasn’t her.
Here’s another damning indictment of the “boys club” Seri speaks of, and one that is really inexcusable:
A huge issue with the team that did get announced was actually not the team but the staff. A women’s National team was announced with not one female representative on staff. Not even the manager was a female, actually the manager is the head of the TC.. interesting..
Not only was there no female representative on the staff but the team has two minors and 4 school girls in the team. At these major tournaments drug testing occurs and there will be no female representative to take a young minor to the testing. If there is a personal issue, there is no female to go and speak with.
This would maybe be alright if the system had been working but in the past 2 years, two male National Team coaches have been removed from their position for inappropriate behavior with players. In a questionable environment, there is not one female representative for the ladies. How is this allowed?
When Seri found out that she had been excluded from the coaches list, she mailed the entire executive at Swimming South Africa (the sport’s governing body) and the Technical Committee on May 31. As of yesterday, she has not received a reply.
With the wheels coming off, some of the team’s senior players took a stand:
…two of the most valuable and senior players withdrew from the team. Both girls have captained the side and both are irreplaceable in a team. They too sent emails voicing their opinions and concerns and have yet to receive any response from anyone at Swimming South Africa.
One final cherry on top is that with two withdrawals there needs to be two replacements. One of the withdrawals is a goal keeper which means that she needs to be replaced with a goal keeper. Luckily there were two goal keepers on the reserve list.
Except that the goal keeper that was brought into the team was not even on the reserve list. They bypassed a goalie on the reserve list, did not even consult her and instead picked a player who was not on the reserve list.
All of this leaves Seri asking the kinds of questions that need answering across multiple sporting codes:
When will this country start protecting the players? When will the players come first? It’s all good and well for the “boys club” to select a team and create confusion and cause chaos but the players have to play and the result falls on their shoulders.
The games are televised world wide and the outcome ultimately comes down to the players in the pool, yet in our system here in South Africa we think about them last. We treat our players poorly and then wonder why we have to take such a young side and why all the seniors have quit.
How many more players and coaches must we lose to this system before something will change? Will it ever change?
People love to harp on about how transformation drives top cricketers and rugby players overseas, but the bigger picture is that there is gross mismanagement in the highest corridors of those who shape sport in this country.
The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) has been a mess for decades.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) is haemorrhaging money and set for a legal showdown with the South African Cricketers Association (SACA) (they represent around 300 professional crickets in the country).
The South African Football Association (SAFA) is basking in the glory of that Bafana triumph over Egypt, when they should be hanging their heads in shame at how they’re destroying the prospects of grassroot talent around the country.
Let’s just briefly look at the open letter published on Monday, written by former Ajax Cape Town striker Nathan Paulse (below) and published on Kick Off:
Dear Mr Jordaan and SAFA, before you jump on the emotional bandwagon and look to take advantage of the emotional high all football-loving South Africans are on, I respectfully request you refrain from taking credit in any way, shape or form for last night’s victory… or suggest we are heading in the right direction as a country with well-scripted press releases.
As evidence and past results have shown… the lack of clear pathways for our talented players through proper, transparent development structures clearly and consistently liking all levels of football in SA (which in turn sees a minute link to the global football industry) for years now suggests that no one in your organisation besides those on the field and perhaps pitch side could possibly have foreseen last night coming…
If like me, you have bled and broken bones for this game and earned every second on the field, you will maybe begin to understand the need to take your role seriously. Or humbly hand over the reins to people who do have the ambition, passion and know-how to progress SA as a football nation, and not use it as a tool for personal gain.
Time and time again, players like Paulse and coaches like Seri Harris are speaking out about the mess up top. Time and time again, these governing bodies, with their political sway and connections, are not held to account.
Worse still, some of the biggest media outlets in the country remain silent on the matter (you know who you are), because of their cosy relationships with those governing bodies and their advertising budgets.
Seri Harris’ story is just another example of how we’re driving some of our top talent away, whilst the powers of those at the top goes unchecked.
Next time you moan about a terrible result, remember that it’s not just the players on the field, or in the pool, who are to blame.
You can read Seri’s full blog post here.
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