Swimming SA dashes water polo players’ Paris Olympics dreams despite teams qualifying

Swimming SA dashes water polo players’ Paris Olympics dreams despite teams qualifying
Players of South Africa huddle during the final match between New Zealand and South Africa at the World Aquatics Women's Water Polo World Cup Division 2 Qualifier at Schwimm- und Sprunghalle im Europa-Sportpark on 4 May 2023 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo: Maja Hitij / Getty Images)

Despite qualifying for the Paris Olympics as Africa’s best, Swimming South Africa is not going to send the men’s or women’s water polo teams to the Games after their showings at the World Aquatics Championships this month.

South Africa’s elite water polo players were left gobsmacked this week when they learnt they would not be going to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Swimming South Africa (SSA) has withdrawn both the men’s and women’s water polo teams from the team to Paris because they are not realistic medal contenders. If that is the criteria, then 90% of Team South Africa should not be going to the Olympics.

To make matters worse, the players only heard through social media – and not official channels – that they wouldn’t be going to Paris. 

This comes after they received barely any support from SSA in terms of training camps and funding.

SSA made the decision to remove the water polo teams from Olympic consideration due to their performances at the recent World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar, which ended on 18 February. 

The women’s team finished 14th out of 16 sides while the men finished 15th.

According to SSA, a minimum 12th place finish was required from both teams for them to consider taking up the continental spot. Instead, Romania and Canada will take the men’s and women’s places at the Olympic Games.

“For us to accept a continental slot, they had to achieve a top-12 ranking [at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha] and they did not achieve a top 12 ranking,” SSA chief executive Shaun Adriaanse told Daily Maverick

Players of South Africa huddle during the World Aquatics Men’s Water Polo World Cup Division 2 Qualifier preliminary Group B match between China and South Africa at Schwimm- und Sprunghalle im Europa-Sportpark on 5 May 2023 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo: Maja Hitij / Getty Images)

Set up to fail

Just what SSA does to help prepare the water polo teams – other than sending out communiqués – is questionable. 

One of the national water polo players Daily Maverick spoke to, but who wishes to remain anonymous, said that since the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, last July, both teams had only a single training camp. That was in December 2023. 

That training camp, held in Gqeberha, doubled up as a selection camp for the World Aquatics Championships which kicked off at the start of February. 

The team was announced two weeks ahead of the 2024 Championships and trained together for the first time, for three days, in Johannesburg. 

That was the week before the Championships began in Doha.

“The squads were finalised last year so they know more or less who will be in the team. So, I think they had adequate preparation,” Adriaanse said, without elaborating on what that “adequate preparation” entailed.

According to a player, they could not train as a team as all training camps must be approved by SSA before going ahead.

The selected players for the World Champs subsequently had to pay around R20,000 from their own pockets, on short notice, for flights and accommodation in Doha, as the sport remains largely self-funded.

In Doha, Team South Africa shared two physios – one between 10 swimmers and another between both water polo teams, the diving team and the synchronised swimming team (about 50 people).

“It was like being set up to fail,” a national player told Daily Maverick.

Megan Sileno (L-2) of South Africa reacts after point at the Women’s Water Polo crossover matches between South Africa and Canada events during the World Aquatics Championships 2023 in Fukuoka, Japan, 22 July 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / HIROSHI YAMAMURA)

Dylan Cronje of South Africa tries to score during the World Aquatics Men’s Water Polo World Cup Division 2 Qualifier Final 7th-8th Place Match between New Zealand and South Africa at Schwimm- und Sprunghalle im Europa-Sportpark on 7 May 2023 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo: Maja Hitij / Getty Images)

Finding out via social media

Players from both teams have claimed that they found out via a social media post from Canada’s water polo team – who will be replacing the South African women’s team – that they will not be going to the Olympics this year.

Daily Maverick has independently confirmed that water polo’s technical committee was informed that the men’s and women’s teams needed to finish at least 12th in Doha to go to the Olympics.

But according to several players, this was an about-turn after the women’s water polo team achieved 12th in Fukuoka in 2023 and were under the impression their ticket to Paris was secure.

According to Adriaanse, there is a certain “standard” SSA wants to maintain at the Olympics. Again, it raises the question of what SSA has actually done to assist players and teams to reach this standard.

The men’s team finished 12th at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics while the women’s team ended 10th

It was the first time that the women’s team participated and a first for the men’s team, post-apartheid.

While the water polo teams have almost zero chance of winning a medal, that is not the primary reason for sending teams to the Olympics. It’s also about exposing athletes to the highest levels of competition.

If being a realistic medal contender were the major criterion for representing South Africa at the Olympics, the country would send a much smaller delegation.

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Team South Africa included 179 athletes competing in 19 sports. South Africa returned with only three medals — two for Tatjana Schoenmaker in swimming and one for Bianca Buitendag in surfing.

That means only 1.12% of athletes South Africa sent to the previous Olympic Games came back with medals. This year the expectation isn’t much higher.

Yet, despite the water polo teams being the best in Africa, the decision not to send them to the Games is a peculiar one.

Daily Maverick asked the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) whether it supported or endorsed the decision to withdraw the water polo teams from the Olympic Games.

Sascoc, the umbrella body that represents South Africa at the International Olympic Committee, took no responsibility, saying the matter fell under SSA’s jurisdiction. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Despicable cretins! Incompetent administrator and inexperienced in the sports that they administer. So many athletes missing out opportunities because idiots are running the show. I feel for the poor athletes who would be in any other country’s Olympic teams if they had other passports. Why does the SA soccer team even get t-shirts? They have no reasonable chance of winning anything, ever! They should be disbanded based on their win record if this is the case.

  • Johan Buys says:

    If all countries only sent competitors to Olympics that are top 12, the Olumpics would be a much concatenated spectacle.

    Two heats for 100m sprint, same most other athletics events and events like pole vault can be dispensed with in two hours. Football and whatever can have one knockout round to get to medals.

    Perhaps the Olympics are anyway just a neocolonial concept. In a socialist society everybody is a medal winner for competing.


    I bet SSA will however send 50 officials to the Olympics, plus usual hangers on from government

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Cadres eating from the trough ,or has money dissapeared?

  • Mick Passoni says:

    SSA/SASCOC you got it all wrong……. How pathetic that you do not understand what you are meant to be upholding.

    Coubertin’s Olympic ideals are expressed in the Olympic creed:
    “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

  • Garth Mason says:

    Following SSA’s example, the next time a youngster asks if they should continue playing their sport, just say give up now, you’ll never amount to anything.

  • Andrew Macdonell says:

    As a direct ‘knock-on’ result of this short-sighted decision, the National “Currie Cup” Water Polo Tournament that was due to be held in East London in March has been cancelled. Understandably the top players are demotivated and cannot afford to lay out yet more expenditure on the sport they love. Swimming South Africa has a mandate as the custodian and guardian of Aquatics to grow the sports in this country. It is difficult to think of another decision has been more damaging for the future. The young water polo stars are the best of South Africa …. unfortunately the same cannot be said of the small-minded people in SSA!

    • Brett Redelinghuys says:

      Well said Andrew, the lunatics are running the asylum…
      That being said, the people in polo can fix this, but they need to work together and NOW.

  • Brett Redelinghuys says:

    This is a conscious constructive destruction of a sport by SwimSA.
    Adraanse as CEO and Fritz as President (and chief enabler) have made it their life’s mission to break SA Water Polo. If they dispute this, let us have an open PUBLIC hearing into the (non) running of the sport.
    His point of “Adequate Preparation..” what a complete LIE.
    Teams were selected last year BUT were not allowed to train together.
    Coaches are supposed to be selected for a 4 year olympic cycle, they only appointed the men’s coach 10 DAYS before the tournament.
    As an example the other teams have been working together for 2-3 days a WEEK for 2 whole Years, and most then partipated in 2-3 warm up tournaments in the 3 months leading up.
    Water polo has no vote in who runs it’s fairs. SwimSA (in true ANC tradition) “appoint” their cadres to all positions. No decision can be made without Adraanse and like the little Nepolian he is, he will make everyone wait, to increase his power.
    Get hold of the minutes of the meeting if the Executive and the Water Polo TC and this will prove his incompetence.
    If you think the Gupta’s captured SA, then learn from the master Adraanse and Fritz who have captured SSA and SA polo. Their appointed lackeys won’t stand for polo and if they do, they are bullied out of the sport.
    Every single person on the Water Polo TC in some way is Conflicted by having kids in the system or looking to get Fina positions to further their careers.
    Call for an INDEPENDENT INQUIRY and free our sport.

  • Brian Cotter says:

    Look at the photos the optics are not right for the Politicians.

  • Brett Redelinghuys says:

    A further comment in Sascoc..

    I was told that there WAS funding for Water Polo for the Paris Olympics, AND the training camps leading up to, but certain criteria would need be be met.
    Did SSA know this? Get correspondence from Sascoc to SSA to confirm.
    Did SSA tell the players this? Get written correspondence to confirm or deny? The players will help here as the simple answer is NO!!!
    SO WHO IS LYING? Sascoc or SSA or both?
    My money based on experience and history tells you Adraanse, Fritz and co have not been honest. They have tried to put all obstacles in the players way, when this is expressly against their Constitutional mandate.
    Organise an open meeting or get a FINA delegation to come and inspect the (lack of) running of the sport.
    Water polo and it’s players, need to now grow a spine, stand up and take your spot back. You can do so legally and there are many countries where WP now runs it’s own affairs.
    Look to USA, Canada, Spanish football for recent examples. If you stand together now, you win. Stop fighting for your few crumbs individually, stand together and get the whole load….
    If not, then they will keep you wallowing in despair.
    Rise SA Polo, Rise

  • Tumelo Tumelo says:

    I must say I do feel for these athletes, however having watched these national teams and schools water polo, particularly the female teams; SA water polo is woeful to watch-just an absolute display of mediocrity half the time. To boot, it’s a sports that is nurtured by some of the most well resourced communities in the country. As with every sport in order to truly compete diversity is required because of a greater pool players is available for selection. Once again the sports dept of government, SASCOC, municipalities, the formerly non-black clubs and these privileged schools have not come to the party to transform aquatic sports in the country. Our waterpolo teams are emblematic of the troublesome marriage of mediocrity and ego.

    • Niek Joubert says:

      Your ideological blinkers are typical of the narrow-minded people who would rather see the country fail than to allow people other than blacks succeed (if one can use “succeed” in this context).

      • andrew farrer says:

        Niek, your bias is showing here. I’m white and fully agree with Tumelo. Both teams are shit. I actually made a similar comment about the ladies team in response to an article here (on DM) about a month back.
        And remember, this is a SASCOC (K?) directive – they did the same to the hockey teams a while back while allowing a ladies soccer team who didn’t even know what a ball was, to go to the games!
        HOWEVER, this criteria MUST now be applied accross all sports, especially soccer to show it’s not a race issue against a sport that’s played mainly by whites.

        • Rod H MacLeod says:

          The soccer team was 90% black, the hockey team 90% white. There is little doubt that race profiling is critical in the decision making.
          And Tumelo – do you feel Bafana Bafana are above mediocrity? Do you feel the soccer profession is under-resourced? Do you feel they deserve the outsize support they get when they are easily the most pathetic national team in Africa?

    • Trenton Carr says:

      Your bias is showing, you want to talk mediocrity and ego?
      You only have to look at banana banana.

    • Brett Redelinghuys says:

      Race based is not your answer. No human chooses their skin colour, their parents, their income group. So looking at a photo and saying to white, just proves your race bias. These are all “free born” South Africans. They cannot change the past anymore than they can change their skins. You don’t use this metric for other countries, so why only SA? Because you have been indoctrinated that race is something.
      Let’s look at them for what they are, South African.

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      “As with every sport in order to truly compete diversity is required because of a greater pool players is available for selection.”

      You mean like with Bafana Bafana?

    • ST ST says:

      “Once again the sports dept of government, SASCOC, municipalities, the formerly non-black clubs and these privileged schools have not come to the party to transform aquatic sports in the country. ”

      I don’t think Tumelo has anything against the players. In fact, Tumelo started by sympathising with the players. It’s the lack of diversity as illustrated in the Springboks and Netball team etc. that Tumelo seems to have issue with. One should be able to point out mediocrity in a well resourced team as opposed to Bafana who have players from largely poor or no resource communities. Hopefully they improve too as they seem to be with Broos.

      • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

        Killing the sport will not help diversity in the sport. Diversity needs to be encouraged young.

        Interestingly though Banana Bafana are hardly white, and I don’t see anyone getting upset. Why do you think that is ok? I say who cares as long as people aren’t being excluded or marginalised based on skin colour, which nothing leads me to understand is happening.

        Really though I just don’t understand why our people can’t move beyond race and be South African, we’ll all be so much better off.

      • Middle aged Mike says:

        My daughter made a national squad and all but one of the girls classified as ‘players of colour’ who were in it came from private schools and benefitted from private coaching. The ANC has fubard everything they have control over and that includes school, district, provincial and national sport for the most part. That isn’t going to change any time soon and punishing white kids for the failure while reserving places for extremely advantaged black kids to make the optics more acceptable is very 1984.

      • Ben Harper says:

        So kill the sport because there aren’t enough good players of a certain hue

    • Bryan Mitchell says:

      It doesn’t matter how well resourced some of the players parents might be if you select your coach 10 days before the tournament and only have three days to train you will be “woeful” when compared to teams that have practised together for years. You obviously have no idea what is required to be a world class athlete – but it’s a great deal more than a “well resourced community.”
      Some areas of society are very difficult to “transform” for cultural reasons. You can’t expect schools to suddenly turn out droves of polo players when many aren’t interested in playing the sport. All excellence in sport starts with parenting -you can’t just drop a kid into a school and expect a 1st team waterpolo player to emerge.
      We need equal opportunities in society not social engineering of outcomes.

  • Agf Agf says:

    If you qualify for the Olympics you should go to the Olympics. It’s as simple as that. Looking at the photos accompanying the article, there are probably not enough blacks in the teams. It’s a racist thing.

  • Trevor Gray says:

    Before we castigated SSA, could we please interrogate the background and bona fides of those in the power position. Are they servants of the sport or merely Cadre deployees?
    Once this exercise is done a clearer picture will be in focus. That said, it will be interesting to evaluate all codes for administrator’s that are truly fit for purpose and not tin pot dictators masquerading as spirt lovers.

    • Brett Redelinghuys says:

      This is Cadre deployment in a grand scale.
      No votes are allowed, so Water Polo cannot elect people. All positions are “appointees” by the SSA executive.
      There’s no audit of WHO was nominated, and WHY they were appointed.
      We have repeatedly ask for this and are flatly ignored.
      That’s why I (and many other ethical people)resigned from their sham of a body. And now am suspended because I keep asking the hard questions…
      Sport Capture at its finest.

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    That should leave enough money for first class flights and upgrade hotels for
    The very important SA officials, so they can go do nothing in great comfort.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    The Minister of Sport and his minions will be there of course

  • Polo Mad says:

    The administrators of SSA are completely out of touch, disinterested in anything other than their fat pay cheques and perks, and quite frankly bullies – it’s time they were replaced! If only the sport could represent itself at an international level – then we would perform because we wouldn’t have to abide by the silly rules imposed by SSA – they suck the very life from the sport!!!!

  • John Patson says:

    How do they know SA water polo will not get a medal? It is a tournament, and in tournaments strange things happen — just look at the rugby World Cup.
    They probably took advice from Russia and were warned that not sending teams is the best way to stop defections….
    Bet swimming South Africa sends a full delegation of officials to the game, first class, and not staying in the pokey Olympic village but in the Ritz.

    • andrew farrer says:

      if you’ve watched either team (SA women/ men) you’d know that any of the top 5 teams could beat them even if those (top 5) teams only fielded (?pooled :)) 5 players. Our teams just don’t have the skills, and reading comments about how the soprt is run, can’t develop those until the anc’s kicked out.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Dissembling syrupy waffle. Very strongly suspect that the team’s are just too white to pass the optics test.

    • Iota Jot says:

      No doubt, but this does not explain why they are allowing the individual swimmers to compete. They also don’t pass the optics test, do they?

  • nick turner says:

    Adriaanse has been hamstringing and destroying the sport for over two decades. Coach appointed 10 days before world champs and then expects them to place in top 12?? This gravy slobering jerk has been pulling the same bullying stunts for 20 years.

  • Neil May says:

    As the father of one of the affected players, I feel utterly devastated for the Teams. The amount of money spent by these players out of their own pockets to “represent” their country shows how dedicated they are to their sport. The hours spent training, mostly alone, and then doing a full day’s work to make a living, shows tremendous character.
    Nothing has changed at SSA since we first crossed paths with them, back at U18 level. Everything is left until the last minute, with selected players then scrambling to get leave from their jobs, and personal funding for the trip. (No time for fundraising!)
    I feel terribly sorry for the current top players, and I have seen it personally, how absolutely gutted they are, that they have been let down like this. For some, this was probably their last chance at an Olympic spot.
    Im sure SSA new in advance of The World Champs that they were pulling the teams, but decided not to announce it then, as no one would have wasted their money going. Don’t you think it strange that they brought the teams back earlier than the planned return?
    What is there now for the players to aspire to, Currie Cup? , because if this decision is a benchmark, then we won’t be going to any future Olympic Games.

  • Roger Sheppard says:

    SASCOC, like all AANC-linked groupings, cohorts, what-have-you, absconded from their responsibility indeed!

  • M D Fraser says:

    No problem sending all the the completely unrepresentative football teams, even though they are totally useless. Plus all the ‘officials’, also completely unrepresentative, business class to boot …….. just get used to it White people….. your job is simply to be a punching bag and pay taxes.

  • Phillip MC Callum says:

    With a sense of urgency and deep concern, I am compelled to address the current state of affairs within organisations such as SSA (Swim South Africa) and SASCOC (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee).

    As stakeholders committed to the advancement of South African sports, it is not unreasonable to expect these entities to embody pride in our country and the individuals they represent.

    Pride should transcend mere symbolism and manifest in tangible actions that foster the growth of South Africa’s Olympic representation across all sporting disciplines. The dedication to these responsibilities should reflect a profound allegiance to the nation and an unwavering ambition to elevate the stature of South African athletes on the global stage.

    In light of this, it is imperative that employees of SASCOC and SSA are, held accountable through the establishment of key performance indicators in their job descriptions and responsibilities. Transparency in this regard ensures accountability and provides a clear framework for assessing their contributions to the development of sports in South Africa.

    Furthermore, the imperative to build the future of South African water polo by embracing talent and fostering a culture of excellence is not merely valid, it is essential. Prioritising the long-term development of the sport over shortsighted decisions is crucial to safeguarding the integrity and competitiveness of the national team.

    Our collective vision is to witness our country’s sporting prowess ascend on the international stage. This ambition necessitates clear objectives and goals, for, as the adage goes, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.” Establishing a robust framework comprising objectives and targets will furnish us with the vision, direction, and game plan essential to ensuring South Africa remains competitive across various sporting disciplines.

    Moreover, let us ponder the purpose of trials. From the tender age of under-12s, players embark on their competitive journey, honing their skills and talents. Yet, how do we ensure a seamless progression, tracking players’ development over an eight-year span to identify and nurture talent for our senior national squads? Implementing mechanisms to monitor this progression effectively, fostering internal competition, and ensuring that players earn their positions through merit are paramount.

    Indeed, many believe South African sports can achieve greater heights than presently perceived. To realise this potential, we must address underlying issues. If water polo, for instance, continues to be led by individuals with hidden agendas, rather than remaining athlete-centred, the sport risks perpetuating its underperformance. We must strive for transparency, integrity, and a steadfast commitment to the well-being and success of our athletes.

    The burden of representation should not solely rest on the shoulders of athletes and their families. It is incumbent upon the governing bodies of the sport to provide commensurate support and investment. Failure to do so not only diminishes the morale of the players but also erodes the confidence of supporters in the administration of the sport.

    Moreover, the passing of Dave Norman—a pivotal figure in South African swimming—underscores the need for organisations like SSA to redouble their efforts in securing sponsorships and support for their athletes. The absence of tangible progress in this regard raises serious concerns about the organisation’s commitment to its athletes’ welfare and success on the international stage.

    Excluding an entire continent from participating in any sport at the Olympic Games, such as water polo, would likely be, met with significant criticism and controversy. The Olympics is supposed to be a platform for athletes from all around the world to compete and display their talents, regardless of their nationality or continent of origin.

    Excluding Africa from water polo would not only deprive African athletes of the opportunity to compete at the highest level but also perpetuate inequalities and reinforce the notion of an unequal playing field in global sports. It would contradict the spirit of inclusivity and diversity that the Olympic Games aim to promote.

    Furthermore, such an exclusion could have broader implications, including backlash from the international community, potential boycotts, and damage to the reputation of the Olympic Games as a symbol of unity and fair competition.

    Instead of exclusion, efforts should be, made to support and encourage the development of water polo and other sports in Africa, ensuring that athletes from all continents have equal opportunities to participate and excel on the world stage.

    Prior to the national trials, a coach was not selected or appointed for, the South African Men’s Team, this situation has created uncertainty and challenges for both coaches and players. Coaches and players are often required to take leave or unpaid leave from their other commitments to attend various competitions, yet they are not provided with a contract or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) outlining their roles and responsibilities. This lack of clarity can lead to frustration and hinder the overall effectiveness of the coaching, training, and development process.

    In conclusion, while athletes are driven by their personal ambitions and dedication, their journey to Olympic glory is intrinsically linked to the support and resources provided by governing bodies like SSA. It is incumbent upon these organisations to prioritise the provision of comprehensive support systems encompassing training, nutrition, and financial backing. Only through such concerted efforts, can South African athletes truly fulfil their Olympic dreams and bring enduring pride to our nation on the global stage.

    Furthermore, I urge us to work collaboratively towards a future, where South African sports stand at the pinnacle of excellence. By establishing clear objectives, fostering talent from grassroots levels, and ensuring athlete-centred leadership, we can pave the way for a brighter sporting landscape in our beloved country.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Perhaps Princess Charlene of Monaco should step in here and personally offer her support being…..
    A) Born in South Africa
    B) An Olympian swimmer
    C) Now a French citizen
    This decision seems purely political. As the female team performed better than the men, perhaps they should be funded to participate – it would be a great gesture on behalf of our government who decry racism and misogyny with half hearted vigour! Now might be the time to stand up and be counted!

  • Iota Jot says:

    There are five rings on the Olympic flag. The ethos of the Games is participation and unity, not winning. Otherwise why even bother to send sprinters or swimmers to the Games when Bolt and Phelps were in their pomp.

  • Doug Southgate says:

    My understanding is that the only reason that water-polo falls under SA Swimming is so that they can participate in the Olympics, as they are the recognised representative body!
    If this is the case and Swimming can withdraw polo on a whim, then why not break away – water-polo is a far more popular sport than swimming, and after rugby, probably the biggest participationary sport in school in SA, especially as it is popular with both boys and girls!
    I would imagine most capitation fees come from polo, so let Swim SA float their own boat!!!

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