By Riel Hauman
Four provinces affiliated to Athletics South Africa (ASA) have thrown down the gauntlet to the national body because of its handling of the Caster Semenya saga. In a “final call to resign”, Western Province, Eastern Province, Boland and Free State gave members of the Board of ASA until noon Wednesday to leave their posts.
This challenge follows the decision by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) last week to suspend ASA President Leonard Chuene, the ASA Board and its members “pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation and further action”.
A day of high drama last Thursday started when ASA “publicly and unconditionally apologise[d] to Caster Semenya and her family, the President of South Africa as well as to all South Africans for the handling of her gender verification processes and the subsequent aftermath”.
Later the same day SASCOC announced its decision to suspend Chuene and his Board, as well as three ASA employees. One well-known administrator called this “the best day in the history of South African athletics”, and although this was perhaps a bit hyperbolic, it reflected the feelings that have been building up in the athletics fraternity for years. And there was more to come.
As could be expected, ASA stated that its officials would not submit to the suspension and threatened legal action if the SASCOC-appointed administrator of athletics, Ray Mali, would try to enter its offices.
The next day SASCOC went further and suspended the whole of ASA. In a letter to provincial bodies, SASCOC President Gideon Sam wrote that it took this step after receiving a letter from ASA’s attorneys. Sam said that SASCOC was “already in negotiations with the IAAF addressing this issue and the possibility that the athletes can continue to participate under the banner of SASCOC”.
SASCOC also asked the IAAF to consider suspending ASA from the international body, Sam added.
SASCOC’s original decision followed receipt of a report by its Legal and Arbitration Commission, and it included the suspension of Chuene, Kakata Maponyane, Molatelo Malehopo (General Manager), Phiwe Mlangeni and Humile Bogatsu, as well as the Board of ASA. SASCOC also decided to “consider taking appropriate action against [the] IAAF for its disregard of Semenya’s rights to privacy”.
It further stated that “the suspended individuals will appear before a disciplinary enquiry to answer charges of bringing ASA, the sport of athletics, SASCOC and sport in general into disrepute”.
Athletes, administrators, coaches and followers of the sport all over the country voiced their approval that steps had been taken against the discredited Chuene administration, called a “reign of terror” by one newspaper. Athletes came to the fore to confirm rumours, which have been circulating for years, of their mistreatment by ASA officials, while one of the country’s top coaches said that anyone who had criticised ASA during the past 17 years had his or her athletics career “ended within two weeks”.
Three of the four provinces (Eastern Province, Boland and Western Province) had called on ASA in September for an explanation why it had not disclosed “from the outset that tests had been conducted, on ASA’s instruction, on [Semenya] before the World Championships in Athletics; why the ASA Council meeting [on 12 September] was not notified of this fact; why the ASA members were not notified that they had not been told the truth before the press conference was held on 19 September 2009 and to disclose what other facts, if any, they had been concealing. They were further called upon to explain why no action has been taken against any officials or employees of ASA who were party to the ordering of the tests and the events that followed.”
This request, to which was added a call for disclosure of ASA’s financial statements, met with no response from ASA.
In its statement released today, the four provinces accuse ASA of being “riddled with corruption, ineptitude and outright incompetence. There is a very real risk that ASA is insolvent, which will prejudice ASA’s athletes, members and suppliers.
“It has become clear that the Board of Athletics South Africa has no respect for either the truth or the members of ASA. It is also clear that the ASA Board will not hesitate to waste further money on yet more futile legal action. While the members of the Board are protecting their own positions, the sport and the athletes suffer. Athletics South Africa is now, in differing degrees, in conflict with the International Association of Athletics Federations, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee and all political parties in South Africa. There is no clearer indication that the Board of ASA has brought the organisation into disrepute.”
The provinces therefore ask the Board members to resign before Wednesday at 12 noon. If this does not happen, formal charges will be laid with the ASA Disciplinary Committee “against each individual member of the ASA Board for bringing the sport of athletics and ASA into disrepute and also for violating the ASA constitution”.
Furthermore, the Disciplinary Committee will be asked “to expel the individuals concerned from ASA and to ban them for life”, while criminal charges will be laid against each individual member of the Board for “various breaches of the Companies Act” and for fraud.
The provinces also state that, “should ASA fail to pay to all athletes all outstanding and overdue prize moneys and to pay to all member provinces all moneys owing to them for hosting ASA events, legal steps will be taken to recover such monies”.