Most of the sporting events for South African para athletes in 2018 have finished or are coming to an end as the festive season approaches. Here are some of the last highlights of the year.
The season for a number of para sports is either finished or will be finishing soon, which will give our athletes a much-deserved rest and chance to recharge before the monumental 2019 season. The SuperSport Wheelchair Basketball Series final was hosted at the beginning of September. More updates will be shared in the next issue. Some standout performances this season have been:
Pieter Du Preez (dubbed Super Piet) came second in both his events at the Para Cycling World Championships. In addition, these events are now on the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Programme.
Ntando Mahlangu beat Richard Whitehead from Great Britain in the T61 200 m men’s sprint and is now ranked number one in the world.
Wheelchair tennis duo KG Montjane and Lucas Sithole did well at Wimbledon, with KG also performing at the US Open.
I recently returned from the African Youth Games where the athletes also excelled in their bid to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games. It was once again a great honour to lead a South African team as a person with a disability, showing the rest of Africa that people with disabilities can achieve anything they set their mind to.
Since August was Women’s Month, I would like to mention that the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) and the National Paralympic Committee (NPC) of South Africa hosted its second workshop for Women in Leadership Programme run in conjunction with the International Paralympic Committee and the African Paralympic Committee.
The aim of the programme is to increase the number of women represented in Paralympic Sport Leadership in South Africa and the whole continent. I will also travel to Madrid in Spain shortly to attend two meetings – the International Paralympic Committee Marketing Meeting and an International Paralympic symposium.
At the first, we will address media and sponsors (we hope to announce new sponsors following this meeting) and at the second gathering, a three-day workshop, we will prepare strategies for the International Paralympic Committee. I’m humbled and honoured to be invited to these meetings and will give a brief report-back in the next issue.
On a sad note, I’d like to pay tribute to Judith Berzen, who passed away in August while in Israel, following a short illness. Judith was very involved in sport for people with disabilities in South Africa for many years and was one of my first coaches in wheelchair basketball.
She also was instrumental in introducing wheelchair rugby in South Africa. At the time of her passing, she was working for the Israeli Sport Centre for the Disabled and I’m sure she will be sorely missed there. My wife and I were lucky to have met her three months ago when I went to visit the centre.
We send our prayers to her husband and family in this dark time. Rest in peace, Judith. You will be deeply missed.
Leon Fleiser has been involved with sport in the disability sector since 1992, when he started playing wheelchair basketball. He captained the national team to the Sydney Paralympic Games and the 2002 World Championships. He started working for Disability Sport South Africa in 2001 as a Coordinator for High Performance. It merged into SASCOC in 2005 and he is now the Manager for Team Preparation and Academy Systems. He has delivered Team South Africa to numerous Olympic, Paralympic, Commonwealth and African Games.