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Masters and Servants

by Craig Jarvis / 22.06.2012

Surfing isn’t one of the big sports in South Africa. It pales in significance next to the three greats like rugby, soccer and cricket, and compared to other countries like Australia, it is totally marginalized. Australia, to continue the comparison, rates surfing right up there alongside mainstream sports like rugby and cricket, despite the fact that they’ve only produced three world titles in the last 20 years. But the Aussie surfers are looked after. Which is more than can be said for their South African counterparts. Surfing Australia is well-funded as their new 33 million rand High Performance Centre will attest. The PR claims it as “the world’s first facility dedicated to the development of elite surfers and coaches. The cutting edge facility will ensure Australia maintains its place as a world leader in the sport.”

To bring it back home, in South Africa, surfing gets some funding from the Lotto and some from the department of Sports and Recreation. These funds are mainly used to send our top surfers to compete at various international contests. Surfing South Africa attracts this funding because they tick all the right boxes – they have transformation and development programs firmly in place and they follow through with this on all levels, nurturing a new school of top surfers as well as top surfing judges and officials.

Sometimes our teams do good, sometimes they don’t. But one of the most successful areas for South African surfing, is the SA Masters team. Their track record reads as such:
2010 – Panama. Three world champions in Andrew Banks, Chris Knutsen and Heather Clark
2008 – Peru – Three world champions in Marc Wright, Chris Knutsen, Heather Clark. Winning Masters Champion team – South Africa
2007 – Puerto Rico – One world champion in Chris Knutsen and winning masters World Champion team – South Africa.

At the Masters level, in the last 5 years, South Africa has delivered seven world champions and two World Champion teams. That’s better than we’ve ever done in any sport bar the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and 2007.

But this year we cannot expect to get such good result. This year our masters need R37,000 each to compete in the ISA Masters event in Nicaragua this year, but none of them can afford it and so the team have pulled out. It’s a crying shame. There is not even partial funding available, which could then be supplemented by the surfers themselves.

To better understand the injustice, let’s make some comparisons. Funding is needed for 8 surfers and 2 officials. Understood it is a tricky time, with the Olympics and the recession and all. But bear in mind that the Olympians have received funding for a team of 110 athletes, as well as about 52 registered officials: coaches, managers and video analysts. That’s a lot of officials; almost one official for every two athlete. It’s pretty obvious where the Department of Sport and Recreation are spending their money this year. But with that number of officials you can be sure there are a couple of “fluffers” on the list.

To continue our rant on the unfairness of it all, last week’s ANC Youth Day Celebration in Port Elizabeth, that president Jacob Zuma decided to skip, was nicely funded to the tune of R2.2 million Rand. This in a province that has 37% unemployment. Add to this, the fact that Lotto still haven’t paid the Eastern Cape Surfing Council the funding contractually agreed to and promised, since 2010. Just saying.

Our surfers aren’t going to Nicaragua to compete. It’s not going to happen. We’re not going to get the miracle funding from Lotto, we’re not going to get the go ahead from Sport and Recreation, and our world champion surfers are staying at home for the first time in many years. At least we have good waves here. Thank fuck for that.

*Opening image of Masters World Champ surfer Heather Clark © ASP/Pierre Tostee.

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