Canoeing South Africa prepares to fight massive funding cuts

Canoeing South Africa is appealing to the national government to relook at its funding model to national federations as High Performance and development programmes continue to be slashed to deal with drastic cuts in funding from the national Department of Sport and Recreation and the National Lottery Commission to sporting bodies. 

In the case of Canoeing South Africa, funding for High Performance programmes from Lotto has been slashed to zero, while the grants from the Department of Sport and Recreation have also plummeted. 

The administration grant has been cut altogether and the support for development and transformation projects has dropped steady over the years, slipping backwards 45% since 2012. In total, the national federation will receive R390 000 for the 2018 financial year.

“We are an Olympic code, with a bronze medal from the London 2012 Olympics, and through our affiliation with the International Canoe Federation we contest World Championships and World Cups in the disciplines of sprints, marathon, slalom, canoe polo, waveski, and surfski ” explained Canoeing South Africa president Kim Pople.

“We are major players at an international level, particularly in marathon and surfski, where we have dominated the international events in recent years and have several current world champions in both marathon and surfski.

“What makes this particularly notable is the fact that these successes have come despite the enormous logistical and financial obstacles to competing, often far away, having to freight our craft and equipment to these venues,” she explained.

“From the original models where we were able to support our men and women, duly selected for these national teams, to travel to World Champs and World Cup events with their boats, paddles and equipment, as well as providing them with coaching. For a number of years now the absence of any High Performance funding has meant that we are unable to offer any support to these men and women at all.

“Being selected to represent your country at the World Championships comes with a massive price-tag now,” she added.

Pople explained that the federation had engaged with the Director General of the national Department of Sport and Recreation, who had empathised fully with the plight and the drastic decline in support of High Performance sport, stressing that it was a national government decision to redirect funding from High Performance and to concentrate on mass participation and transformation.

“We fully understand the national priorities of government to concentrate on poverty alleviation, service delivery and job creation,” said Pople. “For many years we have been backed by a national plan to support federations through grants for administration, grassroots development and talent identification and High Performance, which has changed markedly in the last few years.”

“Lotto, which has now managed to find itself under the administration of the department of trade and industries, is the principle source of funding for high performance sport for federations, outside of the SASCOC Open programme for Olympic medal hopefuls, and the allocations are project based, with a “cooling off” period that cuts off funding after each allocation.

“All we are asking for is some balance to be returned to the funding model because our High Performance (HP) programme has been stalled for a number of years now by the lack of support, and for that support to be consistent to enable us to ensure these programmes are sustainable.

“Not only can we not afford to assist athletes who have worked hard to earn a place in a national team, but we cannot provide for a national coach or HP manager, and understandably the new generation of athletes coming through the system with dreams of wining on a world stage are becoming very disillusioned,” she said.

Pople pointed out that the lack of support was leading to a talent drain as top-end athletes like Jean van der Westhuyzen, Stephen Bird and Murray Stewart have all been head-hunted by other nations. More are following suit in the coming months.

“As a minor sport we have a real challenge trying to secure corporate sponsorship, particularly in the current economic climate, not that we haven’t tried,” said Pople.

“Now it seems we are expected to beg, demand or protest to try and get just a sliver of what we used to get from the Lotto allocation, which was started originally with supporting sport development, administration and High Performance as a funding principal,” said Pople.

Pople said that it appeared there was lip service being paid to supporting High Performance sport across all federations, but the reality of funding was totally opposite.

“From being a tool of social cohesiveness and national unity, High Performance sport has been a source of frustration that is testing the loyalty of our men and women,” she explained.

Pople pointed out that the next Marathon World Championships, where South Africa was hoping to retain its Men’s K1 and K2 world titles alongside three other medals won in September in Portugal, was in China, and the high costs of freight and travel would impact heavily on the ability of our country to field the best team possible.

Pople said that the federation was enjoying the fruits of a successful grassroots development programme, which had produced a new generation of athletes ready to take over at the elite end of the sport.

“My heart breaks for athletes like Sifiso Masina. From winning a junior medal at the Worlds when they were held in South Africa in 2017, he has moved home and dedicated his life to achieving what he can as a paddler.

“The reality is that his dreams of testing himself against the best Under 23s in the world are all based on our funding model, which, to be honest, is in tatters with the current allocations from Lotto and SRSA,” she said.

Pople said that she was encouraged by the excellent working relationship being enjoyed by the KZN federation and their provincial Department of Sport and Recreation, where the balance between supporting mass participation, development and talent identification, and elite competition was consistently followed.

“Consistency is the key,” she added. “It is only possible to plan viable, sustainable programmes when there is reliable support behind us. Our Lotto projects now have a ‘cooling off’ period whereby they cease funding for a full year, which makes sustainability very difficult.”

“We are enormously grateful for the Lotto support, and the role that it has played to getting us to the world title winning position we currently enjoy. We simply seek constancy and a return to the balance originally envisaged by the DSR between participation, development and elite competition.”

Pople added that her regular interaction with other federations told a similar story.

“They are all being told that national government is slashing grants to channel money to other priority projects. But we all see the scale of the budgets and all we are asking for is some balance,” said Pople.

“Right now we are killing High Performance sport,” she said. “It gets particularly frustrating when allocations and grants are made against the prospect of medals, or a world top five ranking, when we are actually getting very, very little support in developing men and women to this level,” she added.

By Dave Macleod

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