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  • Writer's pictureCharles Baloyi

Skhosana defends ASA as athletes & coaches blast federation for abandoning them

Athletics South Africa President Aleck Skhosana has defended the federation's decision to postpone all its national activities for two weeks due to the second wave of Covid-19 that has hit the country. But athletes have criticised this decision most notably Boxer Running Club star Gladwin Mzazi who is spitting fire! The long-distance sensation blasted ASA for failing to prioritize athletes.

Gladwin Mzazi says ASA has abandoned athletes while other professional sport continues. Photo Credit: Siyanda Mzazi.

The 32-year-old first voiced his disappointment on social media when the National Cross Country Trials scheduled to take place this weekend, were called off on Monday. He is demanding answers from the national federation and wants to know why athletes are being taken for granted. "It's business as usual for soccer, cricket, and rugby. But in athletics, we are being treated like a bunch of amateurs." Mzazi did not hold back as he criticized ASA for neglecting athletes. "ASA is selfish and is lazy to serve athletes while treating them like kids. I am disappointed that the Cross Country Trials got postponed. But why did they do it four days before the race?" Mzazi probes.

He said he and his wife Diana Lebo Phalula put a lot of effort into preparing for the event and were gutted about the last minute postponement. He pleaded with ASA to take notes from Central Gauteng Athletics (CGA) that successfully organized a Cross Country championship in Kagiso two weeks ago. "We are served by a bunch of lazy people that want an easy way out. ASA should take a leaf out of CGA for hosting a successful event. They can do this without spectators and allow elite athletes to take part. Kenya also held their cross country event last week, and they also have the Covid-19 pandemic to deal with in their country. Ethiopia also hosted a race not long ago. But we have leaders that are lazy to think," said a furious Mzazi.

The two-time SA 5000m champion said he does not mind paying for the Covid-19 test from his own pocket if ASA does not want to spend their money. "The government rules allow for the professional sport to continue under strict supervision. Just allow elite runners to run and let the sport continue. The federation must explain why it's dragging its feet instead of helping the athletes," he said. This view is shared by celebrated coach Xolani Mabhida who guided Bong'musa Mthembu to two Comrades Marathon victories. "My question is how come athletes are still deprived from competing, while soccer is active? Why can't we have a protocol of making sure that people are adhering to Covid-19 rules while they are still active in their sport?" he questioned.

Xolani Mabhida at work coaching athletes. Photo Credit: Snaps by Boni.

But ASA president Aleck Skhosana said it's easier said than done. He defended the organisation's position saying they are putting the safety of athletes first. "We cannot take the risk and open for events to continue. We thought long and hard about our decision to postpone the events. We will review our decision on 7 February. We plead with all athletes to understand our decision and to keep on training and not to lose hope." implored Skhosana.

ASA President Aleck Skhosana says they are saving lives. Photo Credit: Tobias Ginsberg.

He said that the idea of a bio-bubble or allowing elite athletes to run would not work as the second wave is fatal adding that it is only natural for ASA to sympathize with athletes and not the other way round. "There will still be opportunities for small races, and other races will be confirmed. All is not lost. It was not an easy decision to suspend the weekend's activities," explained Skhosana.

But Mzazi begs to differ and feels that ASA is leaving athletes in the cold, especially in a year when many are trying to qualify for the Olympic Games in Japan in July. He said he completed his post-graduate in national teaching and working on a plan to get something going on the side."If you rely on running alone in this country, you are setting yourself for disappointment. I can become a lecturer or work in a high or primary school. I worry that our club will not keep on paying monthly stipends forever while we are not running. We are left with two months in the marathon to qualify, and I worry about time," said Mzazi who is a father to four-year-old daughter Olwethu.

Mzazi poses with wife and fellows Boxer athlete Diana Lebo Phalua at the 2019 Central Gauteng Athletics Awards. Photo Credit: Lebogang Phalula.

He said being married to a fellow athlete has its advantages. "It is nice being married to an athlete. We attend training camps together, and you never worry about her whereabouts. We both received stipends from our club, and that helps to put food on the table," added Mzazi.

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