Covid rules threatening surfers’ Olympic dreams

Victoria Bay’s Bianca Buitendag has already qualified for Team SA for the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo
Victoria Bay’s Bianca Buitendag has already qualified for Team SA for the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo
Image: Moran

SA surfer Bianca Buitendag’s Olympic dream may be in jeopardy as a result of not being able to enter the water during the country’s level 3 restrictions.

Without access to the beaches, Victoria Bay’s Buitendag and other contenders may not have enough time to sharpen their skills for the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo starting on July 23.

Surfing SA president Johnny Bakker, of Port Elizabeth, has called on the government to make beaches available to surfers for controlled training purposes.

With surfing making its debut at the Tokyo Games, Bakker says SA surfers could experience a dip in form or even risk missing out on qualification if they are not allowed back into the water soon.

“Surfing is illegal [in SA] at the moment, which means nobody can surf, not even professionals who are in the country, who are looking to put in some training,” Bakker said on Thursday.

“We have two athletes who have already qualified for Team SA in Jordy Smith and Bianca Buitendag.

Surfing SA president Johnny Bakker
Surfing SA president Johnny Bakker
Image: Supplied

“Bianca is in the country, while Jordy is now in California and is participating in the World Surf League Championship Tour.

“So he is able to get some much-needed practice under his belt.

“Bianca is still here and not able to practise as a result of the current beach closures.”

In addition to Smith and Buitendag, Bakker said, Jeffreys Bay’s Matt McGillivray, another WSL CT competitor, along with a few of the country’s other top surfers, were also possible contenders for the remaining two spots on the four-athlete team set to travel to the Games.

McGillivray is overseas and competing on the CT, but Bakker said the remaining contenders were at a distinct disadvantage.

“We are lobbying to try to have surfing being allowed to continue.

“We could possibly look into something similar to fishing, where one needs a permit.

“So what we are suggesting is for athletes to register with us and receive a card to say that you are registered with the organisation and be allowed to continue practising.”

Bakker said the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc with many events being cancelled in 2020 and a number of competitions scheduled for 2021 on hold.

“All our provincial, regional and district competitions had to be called off, so that left many surfers in disarray, especially the younger ones who will most likely feed into the pipeline a year or two from now,” he said.

Asked if there had been any engagement between SSA and the sports ministry regarding the issues faced by professional surfers, Bakker said it was difficult to have discussions surrounding a way forward for the sport as the regulations were constantly changing.

“We respect the Covid-19 pandemic and acknowledge that it is a serious matter, all we want is a chance for our surfers to train again like other professional sports are doing at the moment,” he said.

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