Skhosana pleased with ASA achievements
Athletics South Africa (ASA) Media put through Aleck Skhosana a Question and Answer session to give a reflection of the strides and challenges that Athletics South Africa has made since it was first elected on June 2014 on a two-year term and through re-election on June 2016 to date.
ASA: When the current board took over in 2014, following the removal of the previous executive, ASA was faced with various internal issues. In which areas do you think the federation has made the biggest strides in the period since?
Skhosana: We have managed to stabilise and keep the federation together, allowing us to focus on the job that people elected us to do. That job was to run athletics and forget about the squabbles that were not taking us anywhere, and with that attitude were able to strengthen the unity of members of ASA all over the country and in the provinces. We had a lot of work to overcome in trying to cement and grind the national federation so it operates the way it is supposed to operate, which is focussing on the athletes and their coaches. It has definitely worked for us because it has produced the desired results.
ASA: Do you think the performance of athletes is the best measurement of how the sport is doing across the board? Is that how you monitor whether the federation is doing well?
Skhosana: The answer is yes. The performance of athletes makes everybody happy in any sport in any country. There will always be small side issues, but the biggest issue is that a sport must produce results, win against other nations and come back with honour and glory. Records must be broken, our athletes must be in the finals and the semifinals so that people continue to show interest in the sport. Those are the main issues.
ASA: If performances are a key measurement, what were the highlights for you over the last couple of seasons?
Skhosana: We have produced some good results. In August 2014 we assembled a formidable team that went to the CAA African Senior Championships in Morocco where we reclaimed the top spot in the continent, which we had lost in 2010 and 2012. In comparison, we had a very small team against the likes of Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia, but we won 10 gold medals.
In 2015 we worked harder and at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing we finished 13th out of 213 member countries winning one gold medal and two bronze. We also sent a team to the World Youth Championships in Colombia and they also did very well, finishing fifth in the world.
In June this year we hosted the CAA 20th African Senior Championships in Durban against all odds. We began with no stadium, nothing. But with the support of the city the event was successful. South Africa earned more medals than any other country that was here, and many of our athletes qualified (for major events) and broke South African records. We then proceeded with the final team we submitted to Sascoc for the Rio Olympics, which was a testing time for us, but we came back with two gold and two silver medals, which took us to No 5 in the world.
ASA: Now that you've been able to stabilise things and solve some of those bigger problems, what are the key focal areas for ASA over the next four years?
Skhosana: It’s to make the federation more visible and stronger. The only way we'll be able to do that once more is to ensure that athletes are prioritised and they are prepared by experienced coaches. They must also know where and when they are going to compete, and what they need to do in order to compete and get selected for international competitions. We have done that already by releasing preparation squads and a four-year qualifying plan.
People must not be told a year before that ‘here is the criteria, work on this’. We're telling them four years in advance, and we'll keep making adjustments based on international qualification, but we know by the time the international qualifying standards come for championships in 2019 and 2020, we will have so many athletes qualifying. We've seen how well our junior athletes are doing in a variety of disciplines, and I predict that by 2018, most of the Commonwealth Games team for South Africa will consist of 19-year-old and 20-year-old athletes, if we look at the performances right now.
So we are forecasting and saying to our coaches: 'let us start working on a long-term plan. Let us not prepare for tomorrow. Let's plan for 2020'. The criteria are not perfect, but the main thing is to keep the South African athletics family talking and engaging us. The A and B qualifying standards are being questioned, which is very good, and we have said it is not cast in stone.
ASA: Why has ASA reverted to using A and B criteria, while the International Association of Athletics Federations has used only one standard in recent years?
Skhosana: We want athletes to prepare for the A level which we have established, and by doing that, those times will take them to the finals, and some of them will win medals. Earlier this year we said the Men's 100m qualification should be 9.91 secs because we knew our coaches would be able to prepare athletes, and look what happened.
Akani Simbine ran 9.96 and 9.89. So athletes will always strive to get better and better, and we are saying the A and B standard criteria puts our athletes in a very comfortable position going forward. They know they are not only qualifying with the minimum, only to be knocked out in round one. Our athletes will push towards the top and some of them will beat the A standard, which is a good thing for us. But remember, at the end of it all, ASA selects athletes. We've got those standards. We sit and select them based on their performances in different parts of the world.
ASA: What has the reaction been like, from the coaches and the athletes, with regards to that long-term plan?
Skhosana: Before we released the criteria there was an ASA Excellence Workshop in November where these things were discussed. Not everyone will agree, and some will be concerned because of their individual athletes, but those who have been with ASA for the last two-and-a-half years will know that our doors are always open. We listen to the people and we take things from different people.
One of the most important things we did was to sit down with coaches and athlete representatives, writing the terms of engagement so they'll be able to assist ASA, and assist themselves and their athletes, to be on top. Unlike in the past, when we've said we don't want to talk to agents, we've brought them in because they're doing business with our athletes, and our athletes are doing business with agents.
ASA: Aside from the athletes and the criteria, are there other areas in which you think ASA will need to concentrate over the next few years?
Skhosana: There are quite a number of areas, and they will keep coming. As a federation we are growing and trying to establish ourselves as one of the top in the world. We always say the top of the ladder is never crowded. Why are the United States and Kenya always No 1? Jamaica is winning medals.
They are No 3 and they only concentrate on sprints. We've got throws, sprints, jumps, middle distance, and we need to consolidate that. We also want to be there but we have to work hard. We must assure our coaches that they are equal to any coach in the world, and if we can do that, we will be able to move one or two positions up. We definitely have the potential.