Athletes stranded at airport after Athletics SA bungles travel arrangements for 50km world championships

Adele Broodryk is one of the athletes chosen for the IAU 50kmWorld Championships in India. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo / Independent Media

Adele Broodryk is one of the athletes chosen for the IAU 50kmWorld Championships in India. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo / Independent Media

Published Nov 2, 2023


Athletics South Africa has again shot itself in the foot and has jeopardised the country’s chances of bringing home any team prize from the IAU 50kmWorld Championships this weekend.

Poor administration has ensured that some of the five women and five men who make up Team South Africa for the event were not able to fly out to Hyderabad, India on Wednesday night (9:35pm flight), with officials telling the athletes that they were still waiting for visas.

Efforts to get hold of Thabang Maleka, an ASA official who was apparently responsible for the bookings and was communicating with the athletes, proved futile as his phone rang unanswered.

Asked for a comment about the situation, ASA road running head Enoch Skhosana was in defensive mode, claiming it was never the plan for the team to fly out on Wednesday night, saying “guys don’t disturb the federation. Let us do things our way”.

Their way, though, is clearly a mess that saw Adele Broodryk arriving at the OR Tambo International Airport yesterday, her children in tow to bid her goodbye, only to find out that her documents – passport, visa and flight ticket – were not ready.

Galaletsang Mekgwe and Dan Matshailwe travelled from their high-altitude camp in Dullstroom ready to fly out only to be told – by Maleka - while on their way to the airport that their visas were not ready.

It has since come to IOL Sport’s attention that four athletes, Pule Sibeko, Rufus Photo, Deanne Loubscher and Stella Marais, along with team manager Martin Ngwenya, as well as another official, were scheduled to travel on Thursday afternoon while the rest were waiting on word from ASA as to their travel arrangements.

With the squad announced back in August, Marais – no doubt excited about representing her country – arranged for her family (her father and sister) to be in Hyderabad to support her and they flew out Wednesday night on a flight they had expected the athlete to also be on.

Ngwenya had last week expressed confidence at managing ‘a very strong team’ that has the potential to ‘win the team gold in both events’, but he was no longer sure that would be the case.

“Eish my bra, it is a bit of a mess,” he said Thursday “We should have left yesterday but now a few of us will leave in the afternoon and hopefully the rest will join us, because we need at least three athletes in each category to contest the team prize. They are still fixing their documents.”

Nedbank Running Club manager Nick Bester was extremely disappointed by the turn of events.

“Looks like there was a big mess up with ASA because my athletes went to the airport and they found out they could not fly out,” Bester said.

“And it looks like the problem was not the visa, but rather that the tickets were not booked. So we have decided to now enter them (Mekgwe, Matshaiwe and Broodryk) into the Soweto Marathon instead.

“All three of them will race Soweto on Sunday. It is a pity because we really had a very strong team that could have won both the men and the women’s gold in India,” Bester said.

And he is spot on, for there can be no denying that the teams selected were very strong, particularly the men’s one that is made up of Photo (gold medallist at this year’s Comreades Marathon), Matshailwe (third-place finisher at the Two Oceans Maraton), Nkosikhona Mhlakwana (Two Oceans runner-up), seasoned South African representative in numerous disciplines Gladwin Mzazi as well as the strong Skhumbuso Seme.

The women’s team has Comrades runner-up Broodryk, Mekgwe, who boasts the best Comrades finish (fifth last year) by a black woman athlete, Comrades 2023 gold medallists Marais and Jenet Mbhele as awell as Makhosazane Mhlongo and Deanne Loubscher.

Given Team South Africa’s good showing at the world half marathon championships in Riga, Latvia in August, when the men brought home bronze medals and the women finished in fourth place, expectations were that the ultra marathon team would add some gloss to that with a good showing in India. Indications are that would no longer be the case.