Wits athletes who attended a national championships in Durban last week were accommodated at the Banana Backpackers – youth hostel situated in the same building as an escort and massage parlour.

THE CHERRY ON TOP: The athletes neighbours at the building they were placed in. Photo: Axel Kayoka

THE CHERRY ON TOP: The athletes neighbours at the building they were placed in. Photo: Axel Kayoka

Sprinter Axel Kayoka said the toilets were dirty, the showers had a stench that would not go away and the cupboards were filled with property that did not belong to them.  He said the only female who had gone on the trip with them was too afraid to stay in the single room booked for her so she resorted to staying in the dorm with the rest of the guys.

The athletes were attending the University Sports SA (USSA) National Track & Field Championship in Durban where they competed with other universities across the country.

We just wanted a decent place to live in

“We really did not expect a five star or four star accommodation but we did expect something decent, a place that was at least liveable,” said Sprinter David Okharedia.

“We had to put our towels on the beds so our bodies wouldn’t touch the sheets. They were so dirty,” said Kayoka.

Kayoka and Okharedia said that their manager Marcus Toerien was attending a wedding in Durban and did not travel or stay with them.

Okharedia said Toerien walked into the place and did not flinch when he saw it. He said he simply walked in and showed them where they would sleep.

“Even his wife looked shocked by the state of the place, but Marcus didn’t care,” Okharedia said.

Kayoka said every time they left the backpackers their coach would warn them to keep their phones in their pockets.

The manager’s response

When Wits Vuvuzela asked Toerien why he had attended a wedding instead of devoting the whole weekend to the championships he said that the wedding had been planned months prior and “just happened to” clash with the championships.

Toerien said that there was nothing he could have done when they arrived at the accommodation on Thursday evening.

“The accommodation was on a list provided to me by the hosts [USSA]. I went with the guidelines given to us and the budget we had,” Toerien said.

He added that having looked at the accommodation online he felt there was no need to question that it was suitable.

When Wits Vuvuzela told Toerien that athletes had said they would have felt better if he stayed with them and felt the area had been dangerous he responded: “What difference would it have made if I was there? Did anything happen to threaten them?”

Toerien said if the coach was aware that the area was dangerous then he should have advised them, of that beforehand.

Okharedia said some of the athletes had issues with their registration for certain events. “If Marcus was there he could have sorted it out but he had left.”

Toerien denied that he was not there and said he had made every effort to sort out the registration issues but was unsuccessful in doing so.

“I didn’t have the information for the events that they said they wanted to take part in. Their names were never on those lists. That was the information they gave to me and the information I then communicated with USSA,” said Toerien.

The previous manager was better

Okharedia said this was not the first time Toerien had “failed” them. He said there were several accounts where he needed to follow up with Toerien about events when it was Toerien’s responsibility to inform him.

“I do not understand why they fired the previous manager. She always went the extra mile for us,” Okharedia said,

Onkabetse Matlhaga, the former manager explained that she was not fired but that her employment contract had come to an end and not been renewed.

She said she could not comment on Toerien’s management style but felt he could have done all he could to ensure that the place the athletes were going to stay in would be safe.

“Even if they arrived there and realised the place was not suitable, he could have communicated with Marius to figure out an alternative solution,” Matlhaga said.

“Instructions from the top not to respond to Wits Vuvuzela”

Wits Vuvuzela contacted Marius Henn, acting head of the sports administration department. He responded by saying he had been given instructions “from the top” not to respond to Wits Vuvuzela as we “publish what we want anyway.”

He then asked the reporter to send him questions via e-mail, to which he had not responded by the time of publication.