Countdown to Tokyo 2020

While some athletes eagerly await the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, others will not get the opportunity to attend. MARISKA MORRIS reports

Recently the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) shared its progress in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. In January, the organisation confirmed that Team South Africa will comprise 228 athletes across 25 sporting codes – the largest delegation of South African athletes since Beijing 2008.

The total of 101 athletes who have already qualified includes multi-medallist swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker, sevens player Siviwe Soyizwapi, and artistic gymnasts Caitlin Rooskrantz and Naveen Daries.

SASCOC is working to ensure Operation Excellence (Opex) Programme athletes can attend the pre-game training camps to be held in Japan from February. Opex Programme athletes are individuals with the potential to qualify, participate and return with a medal at higher level in the multi-coded events.

Para athletes also have an opportunity to attend pre-game training through the Special Support programmes. Wheelchair tennis and para swimming have taken up the offer of attending a pre-games training camp in Iizuka in the Fukuoka prefecture, Japan.

The national federations will nominate athletes who meet the Opex and Special Support criteria to attend these training camps. The first team announcement will be made towards the end of April 2020. Unfortunately there is one champion wheelchair tennis player who won’t be competing at the Paralympic Games.

Lucas Sithole (above) was banned from competition for the next two years for violating an anti-doping rule that requires players to be available for out-of-competition testing. The Paralympian was charged with missing three anti-doping tests in a 12-month period in 2019. The International Tennis Federation confirmed that there were no suggestions of doping during this period. Sithole, who was a SASCOC Opex Programme athlete until the end of 2019, admitted to the violation.

“This decision comes at a crucial time with seven months to go to Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games,” said Barry Hendricks, acting president of SASCOC. “Sithole has performed well over the years and it is disheartening that he will not be competing in any competition for the next two years, which affects his career adversely.

“As the National Paralympic Committee, we have met with Tennis South Africa and are encouraged by their support programme during the period of his suspension,” Hendricks added. ROLLING INSPIRATION reached out to Tennis South Africa to better understand the planned support for Sithole and other wheelchair tennis players, but the organisation has not responded.

We wish the athletes who have qualified only the best. Bring home the gold!

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