Young athletes fall into funding gap

Lack of funding in some sports means many young athletes don’t get the opportunity to become professional or succeed internationally.

Lack of funding in some sports means many young athletes don’t get the opportunity to become professional or succeed internationally.

Published Jul 29, 2023


Durban - Young South African athletes require funding to maximise their potential and compete internationally. Unfortunately, some never achieve this. This is largely due to the funding within certain disciplines as their sport doesn’t receive the same attention as mainstream sports such as cricket, rugby and soccer.

Mixed Martial Arts has recently been in the spotlight after Dricus du Plessis and Cameron Saaiman’s victories in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), one of the world’s most popular MMA organisations.

But Mixed Martial Arts South Africa (MMASA) KZN branch chairperson and MMASA National Board vice-president Preggy Valuyathum said South Africans’ MMA skills and talents could reach greater heights if more funding was available.

He said MMASA was a self-funded non-profit organisation and urged the government to fund it the same way they’d fund soccer, rugby or cricket.

“MMASA is affiliated with the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF). The IMMAF hosts athletes from around the world to participate in continental and world championships. We send athletes to these events, but due to the limited funds available for the sport and athletes, we are constantly struggling,” he said.

“While MMA is an extremely structured sport that has a strict syllabus relative to age and expertise, some people still think of it as unstructured and unregulated,” he said.

Valuyathum added that South Africa was the best country in Africa after its first place finish at last year’s IMMAF Africa Championships and stressed that such successes would not be repeated if MMA wasn’t funded.

La Lucia Tennis Club chairperson Sebastian Stock said the lack of money was one of the difficulties South African tennis faced, particularly because the country was geographically distant from the main tour.

Although there were tournaments in each part of the globe, the travel costs were extremely high, and that was not helped by the rand’s exchange rate.

“If one doesn’t win and gets knocked out early, it becomes detrimental to the player because they have to consider their finances, lack of sponsorship, coaching fees, equipment, etc,” he said.

Stock mentioned Frances Tiafoe’s rise and him being coached by former South African tennis player Wayne Ferreira. He touched on the American player, currently ranked number 10 in the Men’s rankings, growing up in a tennis facility in the US-Junior Tennis Champions Centre (JTCC), saying the rise was aided by getting easy access to top facilities. If young SA tennis players could get similar access, there would be a huge representation at the top of the game, Stock said.

Speaking on behalf of Tennis South Africa, head of commercial, communications and stakeholder management, Anthony Moruthane, said the current funding was insufficient to sustain the federations.

“Government provides annual funding to federations for administration and to carry out their programmes. Additionally, it directly provides funding to top athletes for international tours and covers their living expenses through the Sascoc Opex ‒ which is the programme responsible for assisting, discovering and supporting SA sports talent to compete globally,” said Moruthane.

“By partnering with corporations, federations can secure additional financial support, allowing them to expand their operations, develop grassroots initiatives and enhance training programmes. These sponsorships would also enable athletes to receive better training facilities, access to advanced equipment and specialised coaching, ultimately improving their performance on the international stage.

“While the government provides funding for sports federations and athletes, it often falls short of meeting all their needs. Involving corporate South Africa through sponsorships can fill this gap, fostering the growth of sports in the country and creating a win-win situation for all parties involved.”

He said the gap between the youth level and transitioning to professional tennis in South Africa was primarily created by the low participation of junior or rising tennis players in international tournaments. With reference to tennis, he added, challenges such as scarcity of sponsorships could be fixed if there were increases in financial support, highly qualified coaches, specific training equipment, medical support, and, most importantly, funds to travel abroad or host international tournaments locally.

The national Department of Sports, Arts and Culture were unable to respond to requests for comment.

The Independent on Saturday