Statement by President Jacob Zuma following meeting with South African World Athletic Championship medalists

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome back home, three world champions who have done us proud.

The whole nation is rejoicing and celebrating with Ms Mokgadi Caster Semenya, winner of the gold medal in the Women's 800 metre race; Mr Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, winner of the gold medal in the Men's 800 metre race; and Mr Khotso Mokoena, winner of the silver medal in the Men's long jump.

We extend our congratulations to all athletes who represented our country at the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Berlin 2009.

We also acknowledge the contribution of the technical teams behind them, who contributed immensely to their success.

Our athletes have demonstrated the spirit and dedication that has become characteristic of South Africans.

Through hard work, focus and resolve, they have triumphed in a highly competitive and challenging environment.

In doing so, they have become role models. Aspiring young athletes will look to them for inspiration and encouragement. They have demonstrated that dreams can come true, but only if a person is prepared to put in the effort, remain steadfast and confront even the most difficult challenges.

What makes these achievements all the more remarkable is that our champion athletes come from humble beginnings.

Like many of our people, they have had to contend with a lack of access to resources and opportunities, but have refused to allow poverty to determine their station in life.

We salute in particular, our golden girl, Ms Semenya, who has made Women's Month more special and remarkable through her outstanding achievement.

She has shown the world that if you are determined to win, nobody and nothing will stop you or bring you down.

As we mark Women's Month, she has showcased women achievement, power and strength. Ms Semenya has also reminded the world of the importance of the rights to human dignity and privacy, which should be enjoyed by all human beings.

The Bill of Rights in our Constitution enshrines these rights and so does the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

In recognition of the supremacy of these rights, we wish to register our displeasure at the manner in which Ms Semenya has been treated. The Minister of Sport and Recreation, Rev Makhenkesi Stofile, has written to the International Association of Athletics Federations expressing our disappointment in the manner in which the body has dealt with the matter.

The Ministry will follow up on the matter on behalf of Government.

It is one thing to seek to ascertain whether or not an athlete has an unfair advantage over others.
But it is another to publicly humiliate an honest, professional and competent athlete. We extend our support to Ms Semenya and her family during this difficult period.

Continue to walk tall, Mokgadi, we are proud of you. We love you. These events should not distract us from celebrating your outstanding achievement on the track.

As we salute our star performers today, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that we extend the availability of sporting facilities to all our youth.

We must speed up the revival of school sport and ensure that it forms part of the school curriculum.

In addition, we reiterate our goal of ensuring the provision of sport facilities in poorer communities
especially rural areas, as part of the comprehensive rural development programme.

We must also prioritise the training of sports administrators, referees and coaches so as to improve standards. We currently invest R24 million annually to federations to help with club development and administration.

Government also provides R19 million through the South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee to assist athletes with training camps and residential programmes.

This is usually used for preparations for major events such as World Championships, All Africa Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games. Clearly we need to do much more.

We want to achieve our goal of promoting sport as a powerful tool of nation building, social cohesion and economic development.

Let us make use of the coming FIFA World Cup and all other international sporting events to ensure that sport takes its rightful place as an essential pillar in our efforts to build a new and greater South Africa.

Our athletes, particularly the youth are an important element in nation building and social cohesion.

They invoke undiluted individual and collective patriotism in all of us, and for that we must continue to encourage and nurture them.

I thank you.
Issued by
The Presidency