GEORGE NEWS - Shock, outrage and disappointment. This is how Georgians and annual participants reacted to the news that the 2019 Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge (OCC) has been cancelled. The George Herald reported the cancellation on Monday, after it was confirmed by George Municipal Manager Trevor Botha.
This late-stage cancellation, just more than a month before the 2019 event, follows the withdrawal of the main sponsor, Acsa George.
George Herald reported in January that widespread uncertainty and concern surrounded the 2019 OCC.
On Tuesday, George Mayor Melvin Naik echoed Botha's confirmation in a statement which said that, due to circumstances beyond the control of the municipality, the 2019 OCC will not take place.
George residents and other interest groups expressed their dismay on the George Herald Facebook page and warned of the consequences for the city. There was even talk that residents should organise an independent wheelchair challenge this year.
International wheelchair athlete Ernst van Dyk, who has taken part in the OCC since its inception, told George Herald he is deeply disappointed. He said the event is a highlight for the community. There have been problems with sponsors in the past, but the late Esther Watson, who pioneered the event, always made a plan. Van Dyk said it is difficult to understand why Acsa decided to withdraw from such a big event. They have indeed budgeted a long time ago.
Andrew Stodel, an athlete who has participated at least 10 times, also expressed his disappointment. He was planning to participate this year and had already bought a new expensive trailer to transport his handcycle to the race.
Stodel thinks the cancellation will have a massive impact, both economic and social. "It must also be remembered that it is a huge community event," he said.
"The event had a positive impact on less privileged athletes and George is seen by athletes as a disabled- friendly city. All the hard work of the past has now been undone."
Dr Dennis Farrell, chairperson of the George Business Chamber, called it a setback for George.
"It is one of the few prestige events hosted in George that attracts national and international athletes. A sponsorship of such an event attracts a large amount of money to the economy of George."
Chairperson of the AHi Western Cape, Dr Willie Cilliers, said the OCC is one of the trademarks of George. "It shows that Georgians care and respect disabled people. The people involved should have done more to ensure that the event could go ahead."
Memory Booysen, mayor of the Garden Route District Municipality, said the event is an asset.
"It is unfortunate that it was cancelled. We must keep trying so that it will continue on an annual basis in the future."
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