DURBAN, South Africa, April 9. ONE week after representing his homeland at the World Championships in Melbourne, Roland Schoeman is not getting any love from South Africa. In fact, Schoeman, one of the world’s top sprinters, is on the verge of being left out in the cold during the leadup to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
According to the Sunday Times, Schoeman, along with Lyndon Ferns and Darian Townsend, will not be able to attend the South African National Championships from Tuesday through Saturday due to a lack of funds to cover travel costs from their training base in Tucson, Ariz. to Durban, site of the National Champs.
If the trio does not compete at Nationals, the men will not be included on the squad that will compete over the course of the next year in various international competitions and in training-camp settings. Schoeman also faces the possibility of not receiving a pair of monthly stipends that help pay for his training – R7,000 from Swimming South Africa and R10,000 from the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee. The team that South Africa plans on sending to the various meets and camps will be considered its Olympic preparation squad. Schoeman, along with Ferns and Townsend, will have the chance to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in August of next year,
Schoeman will not attend Nationals because of the prohibitive costs of the airfare to his native country and the return trip to his training base in Arizona. According to the article in the Sunday Times, Schoeman spent R51,000 to travel to Melbourne for the World Champs after Swimming South Africa gave him just under R14,000 for the trip. Yes, Schoeman had to pay for the majority of his travel to Australia. At the World Champs, Schoeman defended his title in the 50 butterfly and advanced to the championship final of the 50 and 100 freestyle events.
The contract Schoeman has with Swimming South Africa calls for him to compete at Nationals, but without financial support, it’s nearly impossible for Schoeman to make the trip. Meanwhile, Ferns and Townsend attend the University of Arizona and cannot miss additional class time. Ferns was at the World Champs, which already meant an extended stretch away from school.
For the athletes that are not part of the Olympic preparation squad, they will not receive financial aid for their training until after they officially qualify for the Olympic team next year. That means more than a year without financial assistance. Schoeman, too, will not have the chance to race in World Cup action, which would allow for the winning of much-needed prize money. Schoeman is the short-course world-record holder in the 50 and 100 freestyles and the World Cup is held in that format.
Schoeman, Ferns and Townsend made up 75 percent of the South African 400 freestyle relay that won the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The other member of that team, Ryk Neethling, is expected to compete at Nationals. Other United States-based swimmers who might miss Nationals and, consequently, will be hurt include Jean Basson, Troyden Prinsloo and Neil Versfeld.
Making this saga even more difficult to comprehend is the fact that Schoeman, Ferns and Townsend account for a hefty portion of the top talent produced by South Africa. The fact that Swimming South Africa is trying to make life difficult for these athletes is a counterproductive measure. Obviously, the training Schoeman and his compatriots know in the United States has benefited their careers. So, it would seem appropriate they’d be given a waiver in light of the fact that they are leading names for their country and provide first-rate medal hopes at the next Olympics.