Johannesburg - Comrades Marathon winner Ann Ashworth has elaborated on the reasons she publicly declined her selection for South Africa’s 100km World Championship team this week.
Ashworth was notified of her selection for the 12-athlete (six men and six women) team for the 100km world champs, which will be held in Croatia in September.
She said on Twitter: “Thanks @ASAthletics, but until you can actually start doing something to assist road runners in our country with funding and other support, I’m not happy to compete in SA colours.”
Asked to explain why she would turn down her first national team selection after a brilliant season, in which she won her maiden Comrades last month, Ashworth said: “My coach (John Hamlett) has travelled with the team before; he said it’s so badly managed and organised that it’s actually to the athletes’ detriment to go.
“(Comrades champion) Gift Kelehe said that they had a 15-hour delay at an airport last year and no money for food and drink throughout that time. There are a lot of stories like that - (marathon runner) Mapaseka Makhanya told a similar story. Athletics SA (ASA) doesn’t look after athletes.”
Ashworth, an advocate who has made developing woman distance runners something of a personal mission with the sponsors of her women-only running club Massmart, said there was more to her refusal to compete for South Africa.
“Maybe I should provide a context to my objection,” she said. “I’m not only objecting to the way ASA treats athletes, I’m objecting to its policy of not developing distance running and instead channelling all its money to track and field.”
Ashworth’s gripe is that, with the strides track and field was making, it stood to reason that distance running would reap the same benefits with financial support behind it. But she said that, when she and the other corporate distance running clubs tried to address the issue with ASA chief executive Richard Stander last year, there was a falling out.
“We met in March last year to try to understand (whether) their objectives were to support the athletes and they decided to change the registration fee to R100 000 per province. We told them we can’t throw money into a black hole with no accountability.
“Basically, when we asked ASA what it could do to develop distance running, its approach was that it would take the clubs’ money to develop track - 80% to 85% of its income is from road running, how can it take a huge chunk and invest it on a tiny aspect of the sport and leave road running to get worse and worse?”
Ashworth was at pains to reiterate that she would have loved to represent her country under different circumstances: “I don’t think there could be a greater moment in an athlete’s life than to compete for his or her country; I could have included it in the schedule even though I couldn’t get back up to peak fitness after racing Comrades.
“It would be a phenomenal opportunity, but I’ve been afforded a platform where I can fight for something bigger than just me and I’m going to use it,” she said.
Ironically, Ashworth said her club sponsor Massmart was keen to partially fund the trip to Croatia.
“I emailed (ASA ultra-distance running chairperson) George Lamb in November to tell him Massmart was keen to sponsor the women’s team, but had no response,” she said.
“I emailed him three times, but got no response. I was a bit nervous about speaking out because it would have been portrayed as my sponsors not giving me enough, but that’s not the point. The point is they offered to help and ASA didn’t even take advantage of that.”
When asked for comment, ASA president Aleck Skhosana said: “It’s simple, we have no comment on any and everything she says.”