After a long, five-year wait, Team South Africa finally made it to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Leon Fleiser shares his experience
On July 11, 2021, I landed in Tokyo, Japan, for the Olympic Games as the Deputy Chef de Mission. I was extremely emotional as it finally dawned on me that, after all we’ve been through since the COVID-19 pandemic messed up the world, the Games will finally happen.
My colleagues and I got out the plane and started our Tokyo journey from a five-hour process to clear the airport to an hour journey to the Olympic Village. What a joyous journey it was!
Fast forward one month and I returned home for a seven-day period in between the Games to refresh and refocus on the Paralympic Games as the Chef de Mission.
All I can say is well done, Tokyo! You pulled off what very few people thought was possible – an Olympic and Paralympic Games during a pandemic while COVID numbers were increasing in Tokyo.
Once again, I was extremely humbled and honoured to be leading Team South Africa to the Tokyo Paralympic Games. This was the second time that I was entrusted to lead the team, the first being under very different circumstances five years ago in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
These Games were very different, obviously, with lots of extra headaches; preparations to comply with all the regulations in place for COVID-19. But, we did it and our athletes performed excellently.
We must remember that our preparations as South Africans were very different to the rest of the world. Our lockdown and COVID laws did not allow our athletes to prepare like their competitors did.
Therefore, we need to celebrate everyone’s performances, not just the medallists, and give them their dues.
On September 30, 2021, we celebrated the medallists from both Olympic and Paralympic Games, and thank you to the Minster of Sports, Arts and Culture Nkosinathi Emmanuel Mthethwa for unlocking the money for the medallists, their coaches and their guides.
It is well deserved. So, well done to all that got medals and thank you for being ambassadors of this great country. We are united by diversity!
On a sad note, we said goodbye to a South African sporting legend: Kobus Oeschger. I am at a loss for words.
Farewell my friend and rest in peace! I will always cherish our battles as competitors, our comradery as South African Team mates and our beers off court.
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. email: firstname.lastname@example.org