Troubled waters — SA water polo feels the lack of love from governing body

Troubled waters — SA water polo feels the lack of love from governing body
Coach Delaine Mentoor motivates the South African women’s team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. (Photo: Supplied)

Swimming SA’s decision to not send its water polo teams to the Olympics despite qualifying has raised eyebrows about how much assistance the federation provides to the sport.

Swimming South Africa’s (SSA’s) shaky relationship with water polo came to a head recently when the national men’s and women’s water polo sides found out that neither side would be going to the upcoming Paris Olympics, despite qualifying as continental representatives. 

But the turbulence is not new, and the crash has been a long time coming. 

Over the last few years, several water polo coaches have stated their dissatisfaction with their treatment by SSA. 

This has largely been kept under wraps because of SSA threatening disciplinary hearings and suspensions. 

Brett Redelinghuys, a former member of an SSA technical committee for water polo, was banned by SSA in 2022 following a disciplinary hearing that was conducted without the presence of either Redelinghuys or his lawyer who were unavailable due to receiving only five days’ notice of the three-day hearing. 

Redelinghuys is appealing against the ban but — in standard SSA fashion — has had no communication from SSA CEO Shaun Adriaanse or John Slater, whom SSA hired as its independent convenor for the hearing. 

The reason for Redelinghuys’ 10-year ban from the federation stems from his attempt to set up an independent water polo committee which still falls under the SSA umbrella.  

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

SSA hierarchy 

SSA oversees water polo, along with open water swimming, swimming, artistic swimming and diving. That’s five sports with five very different types of expertise.  

The SSA hierarchy structure works as follows: there is an executive at the top, which includes the president, Alan Fritz, a treasurer, three vice-presidents, the chief executive officer, Shaun Adriaanse, several general members, three honorary life presidents and members. 

Below the executive are technical committees for every sporting discipline under SSA — whose duty it is to run their respective sports. 

The responsibilities of the technical committees include, but are not limited to, running the long-term and strategic planning of the sport as well as ensuring teams are selected, submitted and verified. 

These decisions are then rubber-stamped by the executive. According to several sources within national water polo, the involvement of the technical committee in this process is bypassed. 

Redelinghuys has started WaterPolo4Change, an initiative born out of this discontent. The plan is, according to WaterPolo4Change’s manifesto, to “legally change the SSA constitution at the next SSA AGM [annual general meeting] in August of 2024, that will allow SA Water Polo to run its own affairs”. 

The proposal boils down to each discipline under SSA’s umbrella having a seat at the executive table and making decisions for their sport. 

“At the top, what should happen is you should have the president of water polo and the other disciplines meeting on an executive [level] and run SSA like that,” Redelinghuys told Daily Maverick

A failing sport 

While there is evidence of the success of this model in several other countries that have professionalised water polo, South Africa has a unique set of problems. 

The water polo structure under SSA is in disarray, with players, coaches and technical committee members unhappy with the way the system is run and how they are treated. 

Many of South Africa’s best performances at the Olympic Games have come in the pool — from Penny Heyns in 1996 to the Awesome Foursome of Roland Schoeman, Ryk Neethling, Lyndon Ferns and Darian Townsend in 2004. More recently, Chad le Clos and Tatjana Schoenmaker have flown SA’s flag high. 

Swimming is largely an individual sport, which makes it much easier to train the participants than in a team sport such as water polo. 

Water polo squads of around 15 players need structured training camps to build cohesion. 

For the World Aquatics Championships in Doha in February — where both the men’s and women’s teams were told by SSA to finish in the top 12 to qualify for the Olympics — the teams were thrust together for the first time at the weekend before the event. 

There is little to suggest that there is any long-term planning by SSA, which makes improvement at the highest level extremely difficult, if not impossible. 

All national training camps need to be signed off by the SSA CEO. This rarely happens. 

Daily Maverick’s request to see SSA’s high-performance plan for the next Olympic cycle has been ignored along with several other questions about the water polo situation. 

Far from helping teams to reach their potential, SSA is hindering them. The overseeing body is, at the very least, complicit in the current poor performance levels of SA water polo teams. 

Several members of the men’s and women’s national water polo teams have quietly retired from the sport following the Olympic qualification debacle. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Trevor Gray says:

    The fiasco that is described is surely typical of the mindset of administrators of SSA. Very few sports codes are run efficiently and with real participation with the actual players or practitioners.
    Surely this negatively impacts sponsorship and financial support? The days of Lotto grants are long gone and those wishing to compete internationally have to do so on their own dime. This is a form of economic segregation reminiscent of the bad old days.

  • Hugh B says:

    Good to see that at least SSA are consistent in that as they have ignored their constituents they are now also ignoring the media asking questions.

  • Andrew Macdonell says:

    Keanan’s Hemmonsbey’s statement that “The overseeing body is, at the very least, complicit in the current poor performance levels of SA water polo teams” …. is being very kind to Swimming South Africa. For whatever reason (and they need to explain), for years Alan Fritz and Shaun Adriaanse have consistently undermined and sought to sabotage South African Water Polo. SSA is supposed to be the guardian and promoter of aquatic sports – yet almost every decision that they have taken (including not making decisions) has hindered the sport. The Olympic debacle is just the most ‘jaw-dropping’ – but from all the ‘dirty laundry’ that has recently been aired – this has been going on for years. Can you think of any self-respecting country that would go to all the trouble of qualifying for the Olympics then pull out? Even weeks later, I can’t get make any sense of the decision …. absolutely shameful and bordering on treasonous!

    • Brett Redelinghuys says:

      Thanks for your simple and honest assessment Andrew.
      We have lived with the problem for too long and it has not “fixed itself”.
      Time to stand up and fix it.

  • Tess Bez says:

    But we can pay millions for a fan Mamma Joy to travel all over the world staying in expensive hotels but there is no money to support athletes

  • Nick K says:

    Heard a rumor SA Swimming could have sold their qualification slot to a 3rd party country.

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