Disabled Sport in the New South Africa

Andy Scott was recently inducted to the Hall of Fame and wrote the foreword to the book commemorating its inauguration.

He is a former Paralympian who has remained loyal to the cause even after his retirement from top level competition.

During the ‘70s and ‘80s, isolation had severely impacted disabled sport in South Africa, where funding and sponsorships were virtually unheard of, and media interest was nonexistent.

In 1990, with the political landscape clearly set for change, the South African Sports Association for Physically Disabled (SASAPD) received a token invitation to send 10 athletes to the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Games. SASAPD was then the local member of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

The team astounded the sporting world by winning 3 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze medals. South Africa was ready to return to its winning ways and build on a proud record established before isolation.

Sports Minister Steve Tshwete initiated an umbrella body that would cater for all disabled athletes. The resultant SASAPD administered participation at the Paralympic Games and other international competitions staged by IPC members, including events for specific disabilities such as amputee, paraplegic, cerebral palsy and visually impaired.

Enthusiasm and marketing prowess
The National Paralympic Committee of South Africa (NAPCOSA) was constituted in 1994 with Peter Goldhawk (a former paralympian) elected as President. Andy Scott (former paralympian and Executive Director of SASAPD) and Paul Singh (President of SASA-II) were Vice Presidents. Eighteen months later, Scott’s enthusiasm and marketing prowess saw him being appointed as the CEO of NAPCOSA.

NAPCOSA’s first task was to send teams to the 1994 IPC world athletic and swimming championships in Berlin and Malta. Both teams performed exceptionally, with several Paralympic stars shining through. These included athletes Fanie Lombaard, Michael Louwrens, Malcolm Pringle and Pieter Badenhorst and swimmers Tadhg Slattery and Jean Jacques Terblanche.

Despite South Africa’s re-emergence as a major force in disabled sport, SA disabled athletes were mysteriously excluded on the invitation by the Commonwealth Games Committee (only able-bodied athletes were considered). This prompted Scott to comment to the media that athletes with disabilities were “disabled, discarded and disgusted”. The outburst gained much public support and displayed the solidarity of NAPCOSA.

NAPCOSA’s first taste of ‘the big time’ came in 1996 when South Africa qualified to participate in the Atlanta (USA) Paralympic games with 42 athletes in 5 sport codes. The team returned with 10 gold, 8 silver and 10 bronze medals. The team is remembered for adopting the nickname Amakrokokroko in the spirit of the ‘Amabokke-bokke’ national rugby team and ‘Bafana-Bafana’ national football team.

Late 1996 saw Goldhawk and Scott appointed directors on the Cape Town 2004 Olympic bid. This ensured that the disabled would have a voice in the process, and if Cape Town were to win, it was agreed between the International Olympic Committee and the IPC that the Paralympics would be an integral part of the event.

Basking in the success of the 1996 Paralympic team, NAPCOSA began securing major corporate sponsors to participate in a 4-year programme as opposed to once-off events such as Atlanta.

SAA, Vodacom, Telkom and Sun International joined forces with Atlanta partners Nedbank, Pick ’n Pay, Nike and Mercedes-Benz. Together with backing from Government, NAPCOSA was financially equipped to prepare a full team, including medical and support staff.

New heroes
It became clear that Government was starting to take disabled sport very seriously. Sports Minister Ngconde Balfour and Deputy President Jacob Zuma witnessed the 62 South African Paralympians reel in 38 medals (13 golds), placing them an amazing 13th on the medals table. New heroes emerged, including Javelin sensation Zanele Situ setting a world record for her gold medal.

Pressure was building from SASA-II and SADSF who feared losing their identity. They were excluded from the Paralympic Games. So, a non-profit company was registered under the name Disability Sport South Africa in 2001 which assumed the functions of NAPCOSA.

However, DISSA was expected to administer all elite sports for the disabled with limited funding. The only property that was secure was the Paralympic team and its Sydney partners, with newcomer Dimension Data to campaign the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games. With assistance from the National Lotteries Distribution Board, DISSA was able to send teams to the Deaflympics (previously World Games) and Global Games for the intellectually impaired.

SA team triumph once again
The South African Paralympic team triumphed once again with 35 medals in Athens. Swimming superstar Natalie du Toit and running sensations Oscar Pistorius and Tebogo Mokalagadi stole the limelight. Swimmer Tadhg Slattery won medals in his fourth Paralympic Games in succession. And Zanele Situ was awarded the highest humanitarian award by the IPC for overcoming obstacles.

As a result of the restructuring of high-performance sport in South Africa, all of DISSA’s high-performance programmes and responsibilities for presenting South African teams will be assumed by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC).

S A Paralympic Team Credo
“Through its metamorphosis the butterfly epitomises nature’s ultimate miracle transforming into a creature of courage, strength and extreme beauty. In pursuit of the triumph of the human spirit, so too do disabled athletes emerge, thereby attaining their freedom.” A J Scott

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