Cycling South Africa's [CSA] board will meet next Friday in Cape Town to discuss a series of incidents which has put the participation of the national track team at the Commonwealth Games in March in Melbourne in serious jeopardy. The dispute centres on the participation of two riders, Rupert Rheeder and Nolan Hoffman, who ride for South African pro team Exel, owned by CSA board member Eugene Ruiters. Ruiters, who is responsible for development and transformation, has told Allan Wolhuter, national coach for the Commonwealth Games, that these two riders won't be released for the Games in Melbourne during March.
"In doing this, these two riders will be denied the opportunity to represent their country," said Wolhuter. "And if that is the case, we don't even have to send a track team to Melbourne," he added. This raises a bigger issue within South Africa's cycling administration - the conflict of interest present in this case and how it affects the national team's performance. Gottie Hansen, president of CSA, said early last week he is 'fed-up' with the whole issue. "Eugene [Ruiters] has been part of the development and transformation committee and over the past year he has not come up with one suggestion how to address the issue," he said.
Hansen elaborated further by saying that Hoffman, a rider of native South African origin who has shown plenty of promise may now miss his chance to ride at the highest level because, "Eugene is not playing fair and all he does is to discredit CSA." Ruiters failed to respond to questions about contracts which clearly state that any rider's first obligation is to be available for the national team and how he'd react if they do make themselves available for the national track team. It's believed that Ruiters threatened to suspend rider's contracts if they seek entry into team for the event in Melbourne this March.
According to Ruiters "it is not a major issue and I don't think Gottie [Hansen] understands it fully. A lot of major sponsors are involved here and I don't think it is in the interest of the sport to discuss this issue in the public domain. I request you to leave it. Gottie and I still have to chat about it," he said. Allan Wolhuter added that he has been in contact with Ruiters via email to try and resolve the matter, but never received a reply. "We've been busy training and doing tests in Cape Town since last year, and I even worked out a three-month schedule to accommodate the riders from Exel not be present at all the camps we had down in Cape Town.
"Up to know I've had no reply. I honestly believe the SA track squad will bring home some medals, but we have to finalise the team by Wednesday and if they're [Rheeder and Hoffman] not available everything that has been done up to now, will be in vain," said Wolhuter.
The issue may become more complex, as Rheeder and Hoffman have been selected to represent South Africa in Egypt next month when the national B road team will participate in the eight day Tour of Egypt. Feelings are quite strong that if they're not available for the track team to ride in Melbourne, they should be kicked off the team to represent South Africa in Egypt on the road. Furthermore, Ruiters is yet to put forward his five and ten-year plans to the ANC (African National Council, South Africa's ruling political party) portfolio committee on sport about the way forward for cycling. His committee has missed the first deadline on these proposals in November and SASCOC has postponed the deadline to Jan 31. Up to now no documents regarding this issue have been received.