Axed as National Team Coach

On Thursday the 30th of May the World Championship water polo teams were announced. My name was not on that list as the coach which is how I found out that I had been removed as the Ladies Head Coach… but let me rewind for you..

A week prior to this announcement I was in Brno in the Czech Republic coaching the SA Ladies side that was competing in the EU Nations. Two hours before our first game I was given a call and told that the powers that be in Swimming South Africa were upset with me and that they were speaking about removing me as the head coach. It was not confirmed but the call was a “heads up” so to speak. So here I am, half way across the world, about to start a tournament with a young group of women and I have just been told that I may get fired. I allowed myself a 10 minute cry, wiped my tears, washed my face and put on a brave face. I then got my head back into the game so that I could give the players what they deserved. When I returned home I was waiting for a call or for someone to inform me if I would continue as coach or not. Instead the team just got announced and my name was not there.

A month prior to that we had the World Championship Training camp where the team was going to be announced. When the Intercontinental team was selected, myself and three other local coaches selected the side. We were all in complete agreement and the selection process was fair and thorough. A few weeks before the World Championship training camp was to happen, the warning bells started and I realized that this process was not going to be as simple. The first warning came when the head manager and convenor of the TC told me to hold up on announcing the camp because they had some “concerns”. After those concerns were dealt with, it came out that one of the approved female selectors was told she was no longer allowed to attend the camp. The reason given was that she had a conflict of interest. So I am about to go into a training camp to select my world championship team with one out of the approved five selectors present and another random selector thrown in there who has never coached before and knows none of the players by name. The icing on the cake, was when I got told that as the Head Coach, I am allowed no say in selections. AS THE NATIONAL TEAM COACH, I WAS NOT EVEN SHOWN THE TEAM BEFORE IT GOT SIGNED OFF AND SENT IN FOR APPROVAL. What coach in the world has no say over their team? To make matters worse, the selectors knew none of the players, they had watched zero footage from Inter Continental in Australia and did not even coach women.

I was then faced with a dilemma – I could keep quiet, allow the malpractice and “boys club” to continue. I could sit back and just take a free ride to South Korea and go enjoy a tournament with a team that I did not pick. I did not take this volunteer job for the title. I took the position to make a difference, to try stop this kind of action and to try for once to put the players first. When I first took the job and asked the senior players what they wanted from me the most, they said a system with transparency. They wanted open and honest communication and a system that was fair. I promised that I would try and uphold that as much as I could. I made difficult phone calls when the Intercontinental team was being announced and let girls personally know that they had not made the team. I tried as best as I could to stay fair and open with the players. When I had exhausted all options to have a say in the selection of the WC team and realised that I would get no where, I felt that it was right to let the girls know what had happened. I informed the players who were at the camp that I had no say in selection, that I did not agree with the team they put forward and that no previous tournaments were taken into consideration. When I got the call in Brno and given the heads up that I may be replaced, I was told that the honest message sent to the team had made the head of the TC upset and he wanted me removed. This man sure does have a lot of power..

A huge issue with the team that did get announced was actually not the team but the staff. A women’s National team was announced with not one female representative on staff. Not even the manager was a female, actually the manager is the head of the TC.. interesting.. Not only was there no female representative on the staff but the team has two minors and 4 school girls in the team. At these major tournaments drug testing occurs and there will be no female representative to take a young minor to the testing. If there is a personal issue, there is no female to go and speak with. This would maybe be alright if the system had been working but in the past 2 years, two male National Team coaches have been removed from their position for inappropriate behavior with players. In a questionable environment, there is not one female representative for the ladies. How is this allowed?

When the team got released and my name was not on the coaches list, I had a few questions and I sent an email to the entire executive at SSA and the Technical committee. This email was sent on Friday 31 May. In my email I asked for answers about the following:

  • Why was I removed as head coach?
  • Why was there not one female on staff?
  • Why were the female selectors told they could not attend the selection camp?
  • How was another selector not on the approved list added?
  • How are certain people allowed to have multiple roles?
  • Why was I allowed to pick the team for Intercontinental but I was not allowed a say for World Championship selections?
  • Why is Nationals a pre-requisite for making the World Championship side if no Nationals performance was taken into consideration?

It is now Tuesday 9 July and I still have had no response to the questions above. Nor has my affiliation who asked similar questions.

To make matters even worse, if they can get worse from this point, two of the most valuable and senior players withdrew from the team. Both girls have captained the side and both are irreplaceable in a team. They too sent emails voicing their opinions and concerns and have yet to receive any response from anyone at Swimming South Africa. One final cherry on top is that with two withdrawals there needs to be two replacements. One of the withdrawals is a goal keeper which means that she needs to be replaced with a goal keeper. Luckily there were two goal keepers on the reserve list. Except that the goal keeper that was brought into the team was not even on the reserve list. They bypassed a goalie on the reserve list, did not even consult her and instead picked a player who was not on the reserve list.

Now to the present. The current SA ladies team is in a training camp before they head to world championships, they have had 4 days together before they head off to the biggest tournament that South Africa attend. They have been subjected to all of this malpractice and drama. Normally when a player gets selected for a World Championship team, it is the happiest day and full of celebrations. This time, it was confusion, no one was congratulating anyone and instead players were talking about if they should play or withdraw. When will this country start protecting the players? When will the players come first? It’s all good and well for the “boys club” to select a team and create confusion and cause chaos but the players have to play and the result falls on their shoulders. The games are televised world wide and the outcome ultimately comes down to the players in the pool, yet in our system here in South Africa we think about them last. We treat our players poorly and then wonder why we have to take such a young side and why all the seniors have quit. How many more players and coaches must we lose to this system before something will change? Will it ever change? 

As for me, my coaching tenure as SA National Team Coach was most probably the shortest in history 🙂

I feel excited for what is to come in my career and I am desperate to learn and study the game, to learn from the best coaches and to continuously grow and become a better coach. SA water polo has once again shown me the door but like my mom always said, just because there is a bump in the road doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road. 

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54 thoughts on “Axed as National Team Coach

  1. So proud of you Seri and you couldn’t remain silent! Somethings have to change and you gave it your all. This is not a stumbling block but a stepping stone to a brighter future where you can be respected and the interest of the players is a priority. South Africa’s loss, someone else’s gain. Male dominance is still rife and every voice makes a difference. I’m not for emasculating, but am all in for equality.

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    1. This is extremely sad and embarrassing state of affairs. What is the Minister of Sport doing about this destruction of good corporate governance? Bad.

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      1. The waft of politics appears to have polluted the waters . Politics should be backwashed to waste and not circulated into the pool .

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  2. Very sad state of affairs, Seri. I can only say that we stand with you, and we too are excited for what lies ahead for you. March on!

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  3. Well said!!! Very sad to see that SSA does not seem to have the best interest at heart of our players and some Coaches who represent our country. Sick and tired of people enjoying the ” free ride” when going on some of these Tournaments – some dont even qualify to be there. Come on SSA – wake up and support our players like other countries do with their water polo teams.

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  4. Absolutely nothing will come of this. SSA will just ignore the situation and do nothing.
    I was fired as Chairman of WP without any valid reason. Why do you honestly think things will change ?

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  5. Yet another short sighted decision made for all the wrong reasons. So sad for our SA women’s team and future players who have lost the services of a powerful and aspirational leader

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  6. It breaks my heart and angers me that the sport I love and miss so much is being made out to be this joke. Sarah you are brave and a positive role model not only for water polo in South Africa, but for women and young girls in sport. I hope this is only the beginning of a much needed inquiry into WTF is going on with Women’s water polo in South Africa. Thank you for this blog xxx

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  7. Shocking to say the least, but then again nothing shocks us anymore, as we are well on our way to becoming a second Zimbabwe. Such a pity !!

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  8. It takes courage to stand up to bullshit like this. I don’t know you but I’ve lived through many experiences like yours.

    It sucks that is about who you know and not what you know or how good you are. All the best for your future.

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  9. I hope you are going to sue the pants off them!! Where is their funding coming from? Make sure they know what their money is supporting!!

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  10. You are so brave and such a role model for all young girls out there. Stay strong and keep pursuing your dreams. So proud of you and your courage.

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  11. What a sad state of affairs. Trusting for a new day in this situation. Well done on sharing – people need to know so that change might happen.

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  12. Disgusting behaviour from self serving arrogant parasites that have absolutely no business holding the positions they do. Not only have they ensured the destruction of ladies water polo in SA, but their abysmal lack of any competence will be evident for the whole world to see on the live televised games. A full investigation must be conducted as to how these ‘old boys’ are still in the positions they occupy that is harming the national team. So sorry and sad for the ladies who devote, and have devoted so much of their time and energy and lives to SA water polo.

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  13. Nothing new and SSA dont surprise me.Lies lies and more lies.Dealt with them for nine years .when i asked questions i was blocked and told never to call them again.Although my son had been crowned Workd Champ twice and Medalled in Beijing 2008,London 2012 and Rio 2016.I see SASCOC is again pleading poverty.Whahaha.. Think its time for a “Sports Commission” like the ones we have ie Zondo a d PIC.

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  14. Well said. Nothing seems to have changed in 20 years. Could you publish the contact number for the TC? Perhaps we should all start phoning asking when some transparent answers to your valid questions can be expected

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  15. Sorry to hearrl about your treatment.

    Tripple not double standards obviously in operation.

    Explore other avenues is my advice possibly in Europe?

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  16. This story needs to go national. Carte Blanche would be a start. Contact them. Contact radio stations like 702 [ Prime Media) give both sides an oppertunity to tell their story. I sense there is more to tell that you are not telling, probably in fear of yourr future coaching career. If you open Pandoras box you must reveal all. Good luck.

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  17. It is time that the international sports community ban SA teams for racial discrimination.
    Unless the team is picked on merit it should have no place competing at the highest level.

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  18. Very sad!
    We in SA are now unfortunately used to ineptitude at all levels in sport & government!
    The SSA and all their cronies are in it for the money…….sooo….you do not need to understand the sport itself or the business side thereof!
    I agree try to get it on to Carte Blanche

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  19. You’re too good for a bunch of pathetic, wimpish, spineless, weak, self serving, self indulging, incompetent, under-qualified chops who probably dont even deserve to be in charge a broom! I wouldnt’t lose any sleep over it. Just sut bacj and watch the idiots stuff it all up and get away being held unaccountable. There us one thing in life that is guaranteed and that is that the truth remains just that and it wilk catch up with those who attempt to twist and deny it. Victory ALWAYS is with those that speak the truth and defend it. Guaranteed. Its inescapable.

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  20. I don’t understand any of this. Is this a black white problem that is kept quiet or a male female problem. It appears from the severity of the decisions that it’s the former. Please elaborate.

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  21. Good on you for sharing your story so honestly. So brave.

    My hope is that something good comes of it. If only to encourage other people to speak up too.

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  22. Having you as our coach for the time we had you was so inspiring that my daughter wants to follow in your footsteps. To hear all the unfairness you have been subjected to makes for an unsure future for female coaches. You are inspiring and believe you will change the face of the old boys club view of waterpolo. Keep your chin up, remain strong and know you have many young women who have your back!

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  23. Why don’t you name these ‘officials’. If one of them is say, an advocate or accountant (like in other sports), it makes them into a target. They may be getting away with ‘murder’ but their chickens will come home to roost. Their own profession will be made wary of them as well.

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  24. So so proud of you for doing what’s right for the players and the sport of waterpolo!

    Never stay silent Seri you’ve got a good heart and it takes a long time to change the culture brick by brick you break that wall down Seri. In time you will leave a legacy and those players will always remember and respect you!!

    Xxx lots of love

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  25. I am a man and more important a Dad, I would want this woman on my daughters team and if not her any woman with these moral values. An all female team should have female representation at the coaching and management level. Dad’s whose daughters are competing remember if you do not stand up and support these women who buck the “Old Boys” systems, your daughters, wives, sisters travel with a group of men who have power over them.

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  26. My actual goodness! Gutted that this was allowed to happen so brazenly, but so super proud of how you’ve dealt with it. Sheesh like it – mommas child for sure. Trusting that your voice will ring loud and clear to the right ears. X

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  27. Absolutely rediculous. Why is this nor made known on SABC news and to tge sponsors? Or are the sponsors part of the corrupt practices. This needs to be communicated far and wide until heads roll.

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  28. Very sad story ,what is the use you as a team work hard in training and previous games and even perform, at the end you not selected.It’s like sending soldiers to war and half of them don’t have weapons to defend themselves.

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  29. This is such a disappointment! Thank you Sarah, for your tenacity, courage and will! Young women and men in South Africa need to hear this to manage expectation and hopefully change (sooner rather than later). This male centric dominance just has to stop! What is the minister if Sport saying about this? I do hope this matter escalates and long reign your involvement and support in this sport! You are an incredible coach & those privileged enough to experience this will benefit from your steer!

    I’m behind you all the way!

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  30. Stand your ground Sarah! Shocking state of affairs! Surely this is contrary to international sporting codes? We all know sport is big business! Interfering when it comes to the selection of sports teams seem to simply be the norm! When merit-based selections are no longer practice but morally unfair selection and axing become practice, we’ve completely lost the plot!

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  31. We are behind you all the way Sarah!!! So proud you have spoken up, too many of us remain silent and allow these things to happen!!! Tell us what we can do to help, you have our full support.

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  32. Get a lawyer and sue those fuckers for unfair dismissal , we’ll done mate for standing your ground, good luck with your future endeavours
    Kind regards

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  33. The only way this will be resolved is if every player and their parents stand together and demand change. I hope your courage in speaking up is rewarded Seri.

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  34. Well done coach Seri for being beautifully open, honest and transparent. Clearly something that “the boys club” needs to learn. Your determination is wonderful despite total unfairness. Am not surprised the seniors pulled out. As far as the team experience of playing together goes, it sounds like an absolute joke!

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  35. Sad ,for you and all the others involved ,but also for South Africa who are not going to feature because many are not involved but want to make some kind of impact even if it is stupid and like the football team has become a sad joke around the world .

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  36. So unprofessional but sadly not suprising or new! Teams even get selected without trials. Favoritism runs a mock. Prep and decent training seems impossible to organize. So is decent kit. Even though players pay in full. Coaches often have No say. The good leave or get axed. I think it is time for an overhaul and to run a sport above board and with the utmost process and professionalism in place. Seri run a mile. Or do as others have & start your own camps/league to grow the sport and bypass this world.

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  37. Hard not to think that this is racially motivated. Although your story mentions nothing about color, this is not just about an all male coaching staff. You are not alone in the coaching arena of The ‘new South Africa’. It is my opinion that your experience is not isolated, many have suffered just like you. But who really suffers, yes the players & the teams. You’ve clearly taken the high road and refused to blame race, probably the best choice for now. Move to Australia and then rewrite the real story.

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  38. Like you said – one door closes and another opens. I think you will succeed wherever you go and they have lost a good coach but even a better person in their organisation. If you come to New Zealand, give us a bell at Tauranga Water Polo.

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