Sive Speelman: South Africa's Sochi Olympic snub condemned

Sive Speelman Image copyright Snow Sport SA
Image caption Sive Speelman narrowly failed to meet the minimum requirement

Supporters of South Africa's only would-be Winter Olympic skier have condemned the decision not to send Sive Speelman to the Sochi Games.

"He gave up half his youth following his dream, it's just disappointing," South Africa's ski chief Peter Pilz told the BBC.

The national Olympics committee has said the young skier had "failed to meet minimum requirements".

Speelman, 18, is ranked 2,290 in the world.

He would have been South Africa's sole representative at the Sochi Olympics in Russia.

Sascoc, which governs all the country's Olympics sport codes, has denied acting unfairly towards the 18-year-old.

It said it took into account the FIS (International Ski Federation) qualification system. Under that system, the A standard qualification related to athletes ranked in the top 500, while the B standard was left to the discretion of the national Olympic bodies.

Image copyright Snow Sport SA
Image caption Sive Speelman has been competing in Europe to try and make the grade

It could have accepted a "slot" offered by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Speelman, one of South Africa's few slalom skiers, is from Barkly East in the Eastern Cape, one of the only places in the country where it snows.

He had been training in Europe to try to make the grade, narrowly missed the minimum qualification of 140 in the Olympic FIS points list, having achieved 140.126.

But the body said it had an obligation to the nation - and the players - to use only its best sportspeople.

It said: "Sascoc will continue to adhere to its selection policies in order to ensure participation at the various multi-coded sports events is of the highest quality.

"The decision was made after recommendation from the High Performance Advisory Committee, which also includes the Chair of the Athlete's Commission, who is elected specifically to ensure that the athlete's rights and needs are protected."

But Speelman's team and supporters have been dismayed by the decision.

They have started a petition called Sive's Olympic Dream on Facebook.

Mr Pilz, head of Snow Sport SA, told the BBC that he was "disappointed" by the decision and felt it had been made, without proper consultation, by people who do not understand the sport.

"He has been away from his family training hard trying to qualify and actually meet those qualifications," he added.

Mr Pilz believes that Speelman met the minimum requirements and points to the IOC invite as proof of this. He adds that the young skier is now "disillusioned" with the local Olympic body.

"Hopefully, he [Speelman] won't be too discouraged and won't want to leave the sport. The disappointment for him is unbelievable," he said.

The single place allocated to South Africa has been given to another nation.

This would have been Speelman's second major competition in recent years - aged 16, he took part in the Grand Slalom in the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, coming 35th out of 48.

South Africa has never won an Winter Olympics medal. Its highest-placed Olympic skier was Alexander Heath, who finished 26th in the men's slalom at the 1998 Nagano Games in Japan.

The Sochi Winter Olympics will run from February 6 to 23.

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