Sport

IN THE DRINK

SA water polo coaches describe ‘absolute disaster’ as goals and dreams drown in clashes with swimming chiefs

SA water polo coaches describe ‘absolute disaster’ as goals and dreams drown in clashes with swimming chiefs
Head coach Delaine Mentoor at a Fina World Championships match between South Africa and the US in Debrecen, Hungary, on 20 June 2022. (Photo: Albert ten Hove / BSR Agency / Getty Images)

Delaine Mentoor went from achieving historic firsts with the national women’s team to being sidelined with no explanation.

Evidence of Swimming South Africa’s (SSA) mismanagement of water polo continues to pile up, and several more coaches have relayed their horror stories of working with the organisation.

Former women’s coach Delaine Mentoor is seeking answers for her removal from her position nearly two years ago, but has been met with silence.

Another former coach, Sarah Kravitz, has no conclusion to a disciplinary hearing due to take place nearly five years ago. Six people declined to coach the men’s team at the recent Aquatics World Championships in Doha because of SSA’s lack of planning.

Last month, SSA dashed the dreams of about 30 male and female athletes when it announced that no water polo teams would be sent to the Paris Olympic Games.

Youngest coach at the Games

In July and August of 2021, Mentoor made history as the first woman to coach a water polo team at the Olympic Games.

She was 28 at the time and the youngest water polo coach at the Games in Tokyo. Her achievement came with national recognition and awards.

But, a year later, the Eastern Cape resident found herself ousted. Despite numerous requests for an explanation, Mentoor has not heard back from anyone at SSA.

After a successful national playing career – which included captaining the national team – Mentoor took up coaching and earned her stripes coaching various South African age-group water polo sides.

She was appointed head coach of the women’s team in late 2020, after being assistant coach, replacing Pierre le Roux, who left after being accused of “bullying, body shaming and being racist towards learners” at his school job.

With eight months of preparation for the Games – compared with five years for other teams, because the tournament was pushed back by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic – South Africa finished last with an aggregate score of 97-7 in their four matches.

Despite the scores, it was a historic moment: The first time a South African women’s water polo team had competed at the Olympics.

Improved performance

Then, in 2022, Mentoor coached the team to a 13th-place finish at the World Aquatics Championships in Hungary.

After being promised she would be kept on for the next Olympic cycle by members of the water polo technical committee, Mentoor was forced out.

The lack of proper management of the Olympic team showed as soon as they arrived in Tokyo.

Updated World Aquatics squad requirements had not been communicated to the team and, instead of the two goalkeepers and 11 outfield players permitted in a squad, South Africa arrived at the Games with one goalkeeper and 12 outfield players.

“We received the communication when we arrived in Tokyo and then had to tell a player that they couldn’t play the tournament at the Olympics. It was brutal,” Mentoor told Daily Maverick. “It was one of the worst coaching things I’ve ever had to do.”

Things came to a head at an intercontinental selection camp in Stellenbosch in 2022, which Mentoor describes as “by far the worst camp as a coach I have attended”.

water polo

Delaine Mentoor, water polo head coach of South Africa, during the preliminary round against Spain at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games held at the Tatsumi International Swimming Centre on 24 July 2021. (Photo: Roger Sedres / Gallo Images / Getty Images)

She felt undermined by the selection committee. “I was made to feel as if I did not do a good enough job there, or as if I wasn’t good enough to be in this coaching role,” she said.

She was repeatedly told that she would be given help – with the implication that she needed it.

“Everything I asked for in the coaching sessions was ignored or changed. Selection games were stopped, and players were told to do exactly what [others] wanted.

“Should anyone dare question it or suggest it differently, they would get shouted at as if they were a child and made to feel useless.”

A report, which included statements from seven witnesses, including coaches and players, was filed to SSA president Alan Fritz and chief executive Shaun Adriaanse. No response was received.

Mentoor was told by members of the water polo technical committee that the Tokyo Olympic Games was the start of her journey with the team. The Paris Games in 2024 was what they were working towards.

In October 2022 – while Mentoor was preparing for that year’s World Aquatics Championships in Hungary and despite formally heading up the women’s water polo side – her position, along with the men’s national team coach position, was advertised by SSA.

Despite subsequently being assured that the reason was to “follow the formal process of applications and appointments” and that she was “the most qualified for the position” by the convenor of the water polo technical committee, she was overlooked for the role.

“I haven’t heard back from them since. Not since my interview [for the job]. Not since everything that’s happened. No one replied to my emails. No one replied to the reports… all the questions I had,” Mentoor said.

“There’s just been absolute silence since everything has happened.”

Mentoor’s replacement was Nicola Barrett, who is still in the job.

Mentoor’s case is not unique. Before her, Kravitz (formerly Harris) was also shifted out of her position with little communication. Kravitz became the country’s first female water polo coach when she took the reins of the women’s national side at the start of 2019.

However, when she complained of ill-treatment she was quickly disposed of.

“I only lasted a few months because I ended up speaking out. But it was just an absolute disaster from start to finish,” said Kravitz, who now lives in the US.

At a selection camp before the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Harris was subjected to unofficial selectors choosing her squad for the championships. She expressed her dissatisfaction with the players chosen.

“I had no say in the selections and I did not stand by the team that was selected, nor did I stand by the process,” she said.

Her stance got back to the hierarchy at SSA and Kravitz was removed from her post.

“When they released the team for the championships, I wasn’t on the team sheet. I never got informed that I wasn’t going to be the coach,” she said.

“Shaun Adriaanse’s response was that I was removed from the position because I was racist. That was his response to everything.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa’s swimming team not reading much into Aquatics Championships results

Kravitz subsequently wrote a blog post and spoke to various media outlets, which led to a disciplinary hearing for breaking the SSA code of conduct.

Just before the start of the disciplinary hearing in 2019, Kravitz was told to apologise. She refused and the hearing was rescheduled. It seems that SSA officials were not prepared for the hearing, believing Kravitz would apologise under duress. It never took place.

Five years later there is still no resolution.

Desperately seeking a men’s coach

The lead-up to the World Aquatics Championships in Doha at the start of February was a mess for the South African men’s water polo side. The team coach was only announced 10 days before the start of the tournament.

At least six individuals were contacted by SSA, less than a month before the tournament, and offered the job of head coach.

Daily Maverick contacted several of these people. One refused to comment for fear of recriminations by SSA – a common response among people in the water polo community.

One coach who was offered the coaching post said he was employed at a school and couldn’t take leave. National coaches are unpaid.

Duncan Woods, an experienced water polo coach and Mentoor’s assistant coach at the Tokyo Olympics, rejected the offer.

“It was a hospital pass of note,” he told Daily Maverick. “They phoned me three weeks prior to the start of the World Championships in Doha.

“When you put yourself in the context of other coaches that had four-year cycles to work with a team, you have three weeks to prepare. And in that timeframe, you wouldn’t see your team until three or four days before the camp.

“What they were asking for is for a coach to have three days’ preparation in Johannesburg before flying to a World Championship.

“It’s just ludicrous. It’s a hospital pass…”

SSA had not responded to questions from Daily Maverick by the time of publication. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mark Parker says:

    The fight between water polo & swimming is not unique to South Africa. Water polo is played more, watched more and brings in more money globally. Other than the Olympic games, swimming does not hold a candle to water polo especially in Europe.
    SSA is chaotic, badly managed, inept and causes more harm than good, and that comes from all aquatic participants. Worst of all they meddle.
    If SSA had a but an ounce of common sense they would allow all water polo players from schools, to clubs to national teams to manage their own affairs both financially and from a administrative function and in turn not provide a “new Water Polo South Africa” and its players, coaches and officials with a single cent of funding, but in turn “ratify” their teams, and if they qualify, allow them to attend international tournaments etc. Let water polo govern themselves and they will adhere to all the necessary quota requirements for their national teams etc. and handle their own development camps happily. I can assure you they will have more funding, be profitable and will perform better. If it makes the decision easier for the SSA, Water Polo South Africa could probably donate extra cash to the SSA “mafia” just so they stay away.
    And Water Polo SA need to learn to work together especially schools water polo who exploit parents financially. They are the biggest strength and weakness in the sport and they should be called out on it. There are some smart people in water polo and they can do wonders.

    • Brett Redelinghuys says:

      Thanks Mark you again have hit it in the head.
      You tried exactly what we are trying 15-20 years ago and were shot down by the same 2 problems.
      1/ The Dark Lord’s within SwimSa who for some odd reason run the sport like a like Feudal Lords. Swimming, Artistic Swimming and Diving have the same complaints and get the same treatment.
      2/ The Interested parties within the sport that “live off the sport”. These people get some financial benefit from the current system. Be that better coaching jobs because of their national status, be it the parents of the kids who need the national colours for scholarships or adminstors, ref’s etc who use SA as a springboard to further their international World Aquatics Technical Committee position (and a rumoured stipend from WA in USD). Lastly in this group are the “flat earthers”, those that want to stay because it is comfortable and change (even good change), is scary/uncomfortable.
      We as as sport can LEGALLY amends the constitution of SSA to stand on our own 2 feet (look at USA, Croatia, Hungry and most of Europe as an example), where this has been done.
      There is a large and growing group, #WaterPolo4Change from all across the country who are standing up. We are getting lots of support from the downtrodden in other disciplines, who see our fight as a model from them to escape this mismagement and culture if fear. They are being pulled along by ex National players etc. who don’t fear SwimSa’s bullying tactics, who can’t be “banned”.
      Rise up!!!!!

    • Brett Redelinghuys says:

      Delanie Mentoor, Sarah Harris were sacrificed by the SSA Dark Lord’s.
      Delanie send her complaint DIRECTLY to Alan Fritz the President of SwimSA and Shaun Adriaanse the CEO. They have remained SILENT. She sent her complaint th the SA Polo Technical Committee (the supposed highest body in water polo and just below the SwimSA executive). They promised a “full investigation”.
      2 years later SILENCE and to crown it all, the person who the allegations were against, has been promoted to SA Director of Coaching (and would now oversee Delanie).
      These people are allowed to run this Feudal system, because of the culture of fear. People are phoned who make positive comments on FB by one or the TC members, and threatened.
      The individuals are all terrified of getting the same treatment as Delanie, Sarah Cravitz (Harris) where they are either given the silent treatment or suspended with the most dubious “charges and evidence”.
      Time for change, go and see the mountain that is building against SwimSA on the SA Masters Waterpolo FB page. They have taken up this fight and are exposing the bullying and complete ineptitude of the SwimSA President, CEO and Executive board who by their silence allow this to continue.
      SHAME, SHAME on you little men of no substance.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    No illusions,the present goverment is 100 committed to destroying SA,bussiness,sport etc

  • Charles Butcher says:

    This country is beginning to becthe racists “i told you so ” land where EVERY ASPECT of lufe has been MISMANAGED, why is this a colour thing???

    • Ben Harper says:

      Beginning? They’ve been like that for well over 30 years

    • Brett Redelinghuys says:

      Charles, this is not a “Colour Thing..” I understand your frustrations but let’s keep to the point here. A person has been bullyed out of a position. The governing body, SwimSA has not followed their own procedures and have not dealt with the issue raised fairly by Delanie. (In fact they promoted the person she complained about).
      That’s the story here and let’s focus on that.

  • Peter Smith says:

    This happens not only in swimming. In shooting sports, the federation is totally unorganised. No planning, no quotas, no coaching and no selection criteria. The federation banned two associations because they complained. Neither SASCOC nor the minister has done anything to resolve this. We have fantastic athletes losing out due to incompetence. There is money for officials and team managers to travel but none for athletes. It is time to expose this on a larger scale.

  • ilike homophones says:

    more water-polo??? …. and how many horses more will drown in the process???

  • Theo Cromhout says:

    What an absolute disgrace and a farce. This is yet another example of incompenent and entitled sports administrators doing their sport a disservice, and letting down the professionals they are meant to represent and protect. Totally under qualified, both Alan Fritz and Shaun Adriaanse should be ashamed of themselves and held to account for their mismanagement. Shamefully, nothing will happen and they will continue sitting pretty on their thrones.

  • Lucy P says:

    I really wonder if there are any ethical sports federations left in the country. I have some knowledge of the figure skating federation which is run by unqualified and completely incompetent people who have very little regard for their athletes, regardless of their race. Both administrators and coaches are there to extract as much as they can in the way of perks etc. SASCOC seems to be completely useless when it comes to holding the sports federations to account. It’s terribly sad for athletes who spend incredible amounts of time and money training, only to be abandoned by their federation. Maybe it’s time for the Department of Sport to start paying attention to the less mainstream sports, and what is happening.

  • Gavin Hillyard says:

    Another South African success story?

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