South African Athletes Going It Alone in Worlds

From Reuters

Top South African athletes applied Tuesday to compete as individuals in this month’s world track and field championships in Tokyo, saying they were “being used and abused as political prisoners” in their own country.

U.S.-born Tom Petranoff, former javelin record-holder, and former British middle distance runner Zola Pieterse--formerly Zola Budd--were among 25 athletes and three reserves listed in a letter to Primo Nebiolo, president of the International Amateur Athletics Federation.

The letter, written by Fanie van Zyl, a former South African mile record-holder, called on Nebiolo to accept the athletes’ application. The South African Amateur Athletics Assn. earlier voted against sending a team to Tokyo.


“We as athletes are aware of our rights and obligations and we do believe that it is also our duty to take part at this very important athletics event,” wrote van Zyl, the athletes’ representative, in a statement issued in London.

“We also feel we are being used and abused as political prisoners in our country. Athletes cannot allow politicians to boycott Tokyo for their own reasons.

“We believe that you should not allow such blackmail . . . to happen against athletes.”

Most officials in South Africa have agreed that the country’s sports isolation should end, but disagree about the timing.

Some, including Sam Ramsamy, chairman of the National Olympic Committee of South Africa, want to wait until next year’s Olympics in Barcelona. Others say South African track and field has met the conditions for re-entry to international competition.