Schoeman Turns Down Offer from Qatar

DURBAN, South Africa, December 6. IN its chase to lure top-flight athletes by dangling millions of dollars in front of them, Qatar has struck out with Roland Schoeman. The South African sprint sensation, on Monday, released a statement declaring that he has turned down an offer from Qatar that would have paid him R20m.

In the past few months, Qatar has made it clear that it is intent on securing the services of a number of premier athletes from around the world, including swimmers. Schoeman spent some time deciding whether the offer was enough for him to turn away from representing his homeland on the international scene. He found his answer: No.

At the 2004 Olympic Games, Schoeman led South Africa to gold and a world record in the 400 freestyle relay. He also claimed silver in the 100 freestyle and bronze in the 50 free. At last summer’s World Championships, he was equally impressive, winning gold in the 50 free and 50 butterfly and taking silver in the 100 free. His 50 fly was captured in world-record time.

Schoeman is scheduled to compete at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. There, he is likely to clash with Aussie Ian Thorpe, who has returned to competition following a break after the Athens Olympics.

Here is the statement from Schoeman to Swimming South Africa that addresses his decision.

“After serious and thorough consideration I have decided to stand by my initial decision not to swim for Qatar. I have, therefore, given instruction that the negotiations following the second approach from Qatar to swim for them should not be pursued any further.

You will understand that this was not a simple and straightforward decision. While I fully understand the immediate financial implications of this decision, I believe and trust that solutions to this problem will be found within South Africa.

I am acutely aware that South Africa is where it is today because of the sacrifice and commitment of large numbers of people over many years. As well, that the stability and democracy we have attained thus far has not been founded on pursuing short-term gains. It has been based on a willingness to seek long-term solutions to promote the well being of all the people of South Africa. I believe that this should be true for me as well.

In making this choice I have reconfirmed for myself that it is of tremendous importance to me that I am part of the vibrant, challenging, frustrating, beautiful and above all hopeful country I call home. Each one of my achievements has been accompanied by a tremendously strong sense of being an integral part of something enormously meaningful. That I am an African – and more specifically a South African. Each gold medal award ceremony has been enriched beyond measure by hearing our National Anthem and experiencing the unifying surge of joy and elation of the people of South Africa.

There is much that remains to be done to ensure that South Africa will be a haven to all its people. I believe that sport serves to aid nation building, that it has the ability to unite people and can be used to work towards the greater good of all. It provides a vehicle that allows every person in South Africa to dream and to ‘believe in the impossible’. I have a place to fulfill in this process.

I wish to thank the many role-players who have supported me over the past number of weeks. It has meant a tremendous amount to my family and to me. It has also reconfirmed for me that South Africa is where I belong.

While I am significantly poorer today than I could have been, I feel tremendously blessed that it is Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika that will be played if I win a gold medal.

This is the statement released by Swimming South Africa.

“Swimming South Africa is pleased that Roland Schoeman has decided to turn down the lucrative offer made to him by Qatar and remain loyal to his country.

Throughout this entire saga, Roland has acted in forthright and honest manner and with integrity towards Swimming South Africa. For this he must be commended.

Swimming South Africa together with Roland and his South African teammates now look forward to building on the recent success of Athens 2004 and the World Championships in 2005 and preparing for Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2006. With the restructuring of Swimming South Africa to be a more professional entity, together with a more structured approach towards Beijing and beyond and the encouraging upward swing in performances from our swimmers, we believe that we are on the right path to success.

Roland is part of our senior elite team and will be supported accordingly. We will continue with our incentive program which we started for World Championships in 2005 to ensure that we reward our swimmers, like Roland, when they achieve at major international competitions and bring pride to our nation.