How a lack of funding impacts SA’s para-athletes

how a lack of funding impacts sas para athletes

JOHANNESBURG – This is the season for sports awards during which our athletes and teams’ achievements are celebrated.

Toni Mould spoke to Eyewitness News about the award she recently received. “The award is the Sportswoman of the Year with a Disability for the Cape Winelands Region. I was very surprised to receive the award,” said Mould.

As we celebrate what these athletes have achieved, one often wonders what sort of support athletes receive, so that they are able to compete at an international level. Many people ask how support, or a lack thereof, impacts the performance of athletes and their ability to collect points ahead of 2024.

Mould was one of the 34 athletes chosen to represent South Africa at the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics. She was one of three para-cyclists and the only female cyclist to represent South Africa at the Paralympic Games.

READ: SA cyclist Toni Mould reflects on her Paralympic Games journey

Mould did not medal at the 2021 Paralympics, but she’s explained that was not the goal. She had been hoping for a top ten finish and a chance to better her times, and improve her performance, on a world stage.

“This year has not really been a good one as an athlete. I started well by getting a personal best in January at my first race of the year. But then I didn’t have a good and pleasant South African Champs due to an off-the-bike issue, despite achieving my fastest top speed during one of my races. As a result, I didn’t qualify for the SA team for the World Cups in May” explained Mould.

Funding for women’s sport and para-sports has been a contentious talking point in the country recently, with many top athletes juggling careers and having other hurdles to overcome, to represent the national team.

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“In June I managed to requalify for the SA team for the last World Cup and World Championships in Canada but I just could not raise the full amount I needed to go. So I used most of this year to upgrade my equipment on my tricycle, so that I am ready to go next year,” said Mould.

Para-cyclists in South Africa are self-funded over the years building up to the Games. They have to pay their way to competitions, find their own coaches, and meet all their other sporting needs out of their own pocket or through fund-raising campaigns.

“Once I had qualified for the team for the World Cup and World Championship in Canada [critical for qualification for the next Paralympics in 2024], I really tried to attend the races. But as I get no financial support from South Africa to compete internationally, and I need to take a personal carer with to help me with tasks of daily living, I was just unable to raise the funds that I needed” elaborated Mould.

The athlete has cerebral palsy which was caused by complications during her birth. This affects her balance, speech, and motor skills. She therefore uses a tricycle to compete in cycling competitions.

The para-cyclist says para-athletes need to receive more public and media attention to finance their sport as many able-bodied athletes are able to do so.

“My greatest need is financial support to attend international races next May and August. Because I missed races this year, I need to attend as many races as possible next year, to earn points to count towards Paris 2024. Currently, I have no partners and sponsors in South Africa supporting me financially and I have to rely on crowdfunding on platforms such as Backabuddy,” said Mould.

The athlete has won trophies and medals for cycling during the UCI World Cup in 2016. She also bagged a silver medal in 2017 at the World Championships and was named the Cape Winelands Sportswomen of the Year with a Disability in 2018, and again in 2021.

“I think not enough is being done to develop and support para-cyclists on all levels. There is a lack of knowledge, skills, and equipment to develop and keep the sport going. My first suggestion would be to support current athletes because if no athletes are competing, there are no role models for the next generations. Then I would like a way to be found to get retired athletes and officials to transfer their knowledge and experience to those following in their footsteps [so that they don’t] just disappear,” explained Mould.

Sports has an amazing, unique way of making a positive impact in society, but with little to no funding para-athletes like Mould struggle to be the change needed in their communities. And younger generations have nothing positive to keep them going and out of trouble.

“Then equipment for para-cycling is just ridiculously expensive so we need partners and sponsors to come on board and help distribute equipment to those who want to start the sport. Those are just three ways in which we can start” said Mould.

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