Penny Heyns Heads Up New, Inclusive South African Athletes’ Committee

Photo Courtesy: Swimming South Africa

South African athletes have been given a stronger voice within Swimming SA (SSA) with the launch of a more inclusive Athletes’ Committee (AC) headed by swimming legend Penny Heyns

The athletes’ committee consists of eight athletes representing artistic swimming, swimming, water polo, masters swimming, disability swimming, open water swimming and diving. 

The committee comprises of athletes that are actively competing at the highest level including London 2012 Olympic champion Cameron van der Burgh, Commonwealth Games double gold medallist Tatjana Schoenmaker and Open Water 5km world champion Chad Ho.

Heyns, who is the only woman in history to win both the 100m and 200m breaststroke gold medals at the Olympics following her double at the 1996 Atlanta Games, is also the chair of the FINA Athletes Committee and a member of the FINA Bureau. 

“It started from the FINA committee where we strongly urged all national federations to have an athletes’ committee.” Heyns said.

She explained that the purpose of the committee is to give athletes a platform where they can give their input and bring their concerns to the governing body and the executive committee. 

“SSA firmly encouraged the establishment of this athletes’ committee, there have been very small ones in the past but this is the first time we have a collective group that represents every single discipline (Artistic Swimming, Platform and Springboard Diving, Open Water Swimming, Swimming and Water Polo)  within Swimming South Africa,”

Heyns said she was inspired by the enthusiasm from the members of the newly formed committee and the contribution they want to make in making aquatics one of the leading sports in the country. 

“The first thing and probably the most important step which we embarked on was to have our first meeting.  We had the President Mr. Alan Fritz and  CEO Mr. Shaun Adriaanse in the meeting and the purpose was for the athletes to get to know them and voice their opinions.  There were already some productive discussions that took place and some really good ideas that came from the athletes on what Swimming South Africa can do for the other disciplines.”

Heyns said it was important to give other disciplines like artistic swimming and diving a seat at the table.  “It is something quite sensitive about whether it is at an international or local level, we as swimmers have to curb ourselves in terms of our language to recognise there are other disciplines,” Heyns said.

“We need to find a way to support and many of those disciplines have not had a voice in the past within the athlete committee.” 

She said although there had traditionally been a disconnect between the athletes and the governing body there was a shift towards giving the sport’s biggest assets greater say at an executive level.

“The disconnect between athletes and governing bodies is a problem for federations both nationally and internationally,” Heyns said.

“There has been a strong push in every area from a WADA perspective or within international federations where the athlete’s body has a stronger role within the federation.”

Heyns said their aim would be to effectively engage with the athlete communities within the various codes both in terms of representing needs as well as information dissemination.  It is important that the athletes know about us and find a way where they can engage with us so that we can represent them to the decision-making bodies,” Heyns said.

“For so long athletes have been used to keeping quiet, just go and perform and don’t say too much.  An important role we can fulfill is the communication between the athletes and the coaches. It is not really our role to represent the coaches to SSA but perhaps there is a gap for that as well.” Heyns said a number of initiatives are in the pipeline which will serve to encourage investment in the sport as well as build the image of SSA.

SSA Athletes’ Committee: 

Penny Heyns (AC chair), Laura Strugnell (artistic swimming), Cameron van der Burgh (swimming), Tatjana Schoenmaker (swimming), Kelsey White (water polo), Lwazi Madi (water polo), Alani Ferreira (disability swimming), Karen Kennedy (masters), Chad Ho (open water), Stefan Steenkamp (diving).

The above press release was posted by Swimming World in conjunction with Swimming South Africa. For press releases and advertising inquiries please contactAdvertising@SwimmingWorld.com.

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Author: James Sica

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James Sica is the Men and Women's Assistant Coach at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been an assistant coach at CMU in Pittsburgh, PA (2015-2017), a volunteer assistant coach with the Harvard women’s program (2014-2015) and an assistant with the Ithaca College men's program (2012-2014).

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