Athletics: Commonwealth Games 1994: South Africa's disappointing response: Rugby and cricket are attracting more attention than the prospects of a team competing for the first time since 1958. John Carlin reports from Johannesburg

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The Independent Online
SO INTENSE has the scrutiny been of the ferment in the rugby establishment that South Africans have so far failed to respond to their inclusion in the Commonwealth Games for the first time since Cardiff in 1958.

The Games have merited only passing comment on the sports pages and SABC television is yet to express the slightest glimmer of interest. The latter might be explained by the fact that the Games are to be broadcast on a rival cable channel, thus denying the black majority (who cannot afford the fee, for the most part) an opportunity to initiate a new tradition of sporting loyalty.

This is probably just as well, given that of the 112 South Africans in Victoria only eight are black. Officials and journalists welcoming the delegation were reported to have expressed dismay at the shortage of black competitors. Was this what the much-vaunted 'new South Africa' was all about?

But it was the black members of the team who came to the rescue, nipping any potential racial furore in the bud by emphasising to reporters that the team had been selected entirely on merit. 'The best possible team was sent to Canada,' Ivor Buhlalo, the South African lightweight boxing champion, said.

Whether the best possible team will make a more significant impact than they did in the Barcelona Olympics, where they won a disappointing two silver medals, remains to be seen. Sam Ramsamy, South Africa's Olympic Games supremo, has said that the team will come away with 10 medals. Unless the boxers can cause a few surprises, it is difficult to see where the medals will be won.

The sentimental favourite is Elana Meyer, who won the 10,000 metres silver in Barcelona. But she has had a virus and may not be in the necessary condition to match her best performances.

The only near-certainty for a gold is Okkert Britz, South Africa's 21-year-old pole vault champion. His 5.85m best jump ranks him among the best in the world, and is 30cm higher than any of his Commonwealth rivals.

The team's assistant manager, Hugo Olivier, suggested that perhaps Ramsamy might have been overstating the case when he reeled off a list of pre-emptive excuses upon arrival in Canada. The intense media scrutiny, he argued, would be a problem. 'People must realise that our late re-entry to the Commonwealth has meant we've only had six weeks to prepare for these games,' he said.

Victory for Britz is the least that will be required of the team if they are to succeed in conveying their enthusiasm to their compatriots 12,000 miles across the globe.

The biggest problem, perhaps, is that the opening ceremony coincides with the start of the third Test at The Oval. It is unlikely that Britz, Meyer and Buhlalo, however heroically they might perform, will succeed in wresting the glamour away from Jonty Rhodes, Peter Kirsten and Fanie de Villiers.

(Photograph omitted)

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