Swimming would be sunk by funding cuts, says Van der Burgh

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in London

KEVIN Anderson and Louis Oosthuizen pay their own bills to travel the world and play tennis and golf. Do swimmers think they’re too special to do the same?

“With bigger sports there is a lot more money involved,” Cameron van der Burgh said.

“For Olympic sports it’s difficult, because unless you’re the Olympic champion there’s not much money around.”

And there may be a lot less, what with the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) in line for massive funding cuts that could cripple the ability of codes like swimming to punch above their weight as they have done since the country’s readmission to the international arena in the early 1990s.

SASCOC was allocated more than R100-million in the last year, but the new measures would see that figure dwindle to R5-million every two years.

That’s awful news for swimmers, who have won more Olympic medals for South Africa in the modern era than any other sport except athletics: they have 14 each.

But success hasn’t earned swimmers security.

“If Kevin Anderson or Louis Oosthuizen win a Major, their winnings are pretty much what a swimmer or an athlete will win in their entire career,” Van der Burgh said.

“Top level swimmers are on the same level as, say, a contracted Springbok.”

Bok players make between R2-million to R5.5-million a year. Oosthuizen’s career earnings are R344.5-million.

“Guys like Louis Oosthuizen don’t even have to win; if they place they still walk away with millions of rand,” Van der Burgh said.

“For us, if you don’t win and you aren’t the best in the world straight up, then you’re not earning a salary.”

Van der Burgh was the 2012 Olympic 100 metres breaststroke champion and the silver medallist in 2016, and is still the 100 metres and 50 metres short course world record-holder.

But not every swimmer who could make it that big is able to splash their way to success unaided.

“The guys who are young and bubbling under are the ones who really need the funding and they are not good enough yet to get it,” Van der Burgh said.

“If you don’t have the money your dreams die pretty quickly.

“If you’re stuck here, in the bubble of South Africa, you lose the reality of how good the rest of the world is and you can’t up your game or learn from the best and bring the knowledge back.

“We all work as hard as we can and you want to represent the country. But when you do your part and, unfortunately, politics gets involved in sport and doesn’t come to the party, it is disheartening.

“We need the support of the government and the federations. Hopefully they can sort out their differences and find the funding to produce more Chads (le Clos) and Camerons and Waydes (van Niekerk, the 800m Olympic champion and world record-holder).

“If the funding dries up nothing like that is going to happen.”

Van der Burgh left for Europe last Sunday to train and compete. He will return home for “two or three weeks” before going to the famed Gloria excellence centre in Turkey to round off his preparations for the World Championships in Hungary in July. Success there would be good for his bank balance. But how good?

In 2015, Van der Burgh claimed silver in the 100 metres and the 50 metres. He earned less than R200 000 for both.

Also in 2015, Oosthuizen tied for 19th place in the US Masters. He pocketed more than R1.7-million.

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