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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

South African Squad Still Has Few Blacks

VICTORIA, British Columbia -- South African sports officials are not making excuses for the makeup of the country's mostly all-white team at the Commonwealth Games. They promise it will be more integrated in the future.

"It's a new team, pioneered into a new age," minister of sports Steve Tshwete said Thursday, prior to the Games' opening ceremonies. "We are ready, as South Africans, to address ... the problem."

"We hope to make sports available to all and sundry in the country. We want to be charting the way forward. We don't want to be looking over our shoulders. We have no apologies for the composition of our team. As for winning medals, we are not going to go back home empty-handed."

The South Africans, participating in the Games for the first time since 1958, after being expelled from the Commonwealth because of the country's apartheid policy, have a 112-member delegation, including 102 whites. Of the 10 blacks, seven are competitors and three are team managers.

"We have a lot of young, talented blacks whose potential has not yet been tapped," Mluleki George, president of the South African Commonwealth Games, said. "At Atlanta (for the 1996 Olympics), you will be seeing the beginning of the changes. They can't be done overnight."

George pointed out that a metropolis like Soweto has a population of about four million, all blacks, but few opportunities for athletes.

"We can't relocate them," George said. "We have to make sure there are facilities for them." Tshwete said the Commonwealth Games would provide a valuable learning tool for the South Africans.

"It's been a matter of a lack of deprivation. We lack the most basic of facilities. Right now, it's impossible to produce a black swimmer from our community. You couldn't take a swimmer from Soweto here. He has never seen a swimming pool."

Politically, the government is totally behind integration of South Africa's sports teams, Tshwete said.

Since South Africa was not readmitted into the Commonwealth until June 1, sports officials had to scramble to assemble representative teams. Nevertheless, "the team is well-prepared despite the limitations of time," chef de mission Mtobi Tyamzashe said. "The team has caught the spirit of the Games."