Let your fingers do the running

Athletes should brace themselves for the return to small purses for competing in major events as big sponsors continue to pull out of the sport.

The Mail & Guardian has learned that Yellow Pages will not renew its sponsorship of close to R7-million a year that financed Athletics South Africa’s (ASA) track and field championships. Yellow Pages has bankrolled track and field events for the past three years, giving athletes incentives of up to R30 000 an event.

Yellow Pages has not formally withdrawn and insists that talks are still in progress.

”We started negotiations with ASA after the Berlin world championships in August. The outcome of these talks will determine the future of the sponsorship. It would be premature to predict the outcome of these negotiations. The promotion of our brand [Yellow Pages] is paramount and we will be guided by what is in the best interest of the brand,” read a statement.

Athletics boss Leonard Chuene has come under fire in the past three weeks after he lied about not knowing that gender tests were conducted locally on 800m champion Caster Semenya ahead of the world championships in Berlin. This is believed to be the reason behind sponsors pulling the plug on ASA.

ASA is in serious trouble. Ordinarily, plans for the track and field event taking place in January would already have been implemented. The marketing and communications strategy should be in place. T-shirts for the participants, volunteers and officials should have been ordered and travel and accommodation arrangements finalised between three and six months ahead of time. Things are not working out for ASA.

Last month the M&G reported that Nedbank, once one of ASA’s biggest sponsors, had withdrawn from its R17-million-a-year deal with the federation for the 2010 season. Nedbank cited unhappiness about ASA’s quality of delivery in some events.

In 2003 runners pocketed anything between R1000 and R40000 for winning either a half marathon, marathon or the Soweto Marathon. But things changed for the better in 2006 when Nedbank came on board. Prize money increased to between R20 000 and R100 000.

With big incentives, the sport has attracted runners from other countries who have given local athletes healthy competition. The Soweto Marathon has drawn Lesotho’s top athletes. South Africa’s top marathon runner Hendrick Ramaala used such events to prepare for the London Marathon, the New York City Marathon and other international events. It is highly unlikely that the events will attract such big names again, now that the purses will be smaller.

The 1986 Two Oceans marathon winner and 1992 Barcelona Olympics team South Africa manager, Thulani Sibisi, said ASA needs new leadership to save the sinking ship.

”Chuene is an arrogant monster who will take you out when you raise issues with him,” he said.

Sibisi, added: ”We cannot go to London with the same leadership that is contributing towards the loss of such big sponsors. When Nedbank came on board the sport changed for the better. Our races attracted big names but now they will stay in their countries because they will not fly all the way to South Africa to get R1000. No sponsors will come on board as long as Chuene is still the president.

”ASA has failed to deliver quality events over the years. In 2007 people, including Chuene, ran 20km instead of 10km after a blunder. Runners get lost all the time; at some point Rodica Ramaala led a race and got lost towards the end and she ended up coming second. ASA promised to rectify the error and give her the winner’s prize money, but that did not happen. She received the runner-up prize money and ASA promised to give her an extra R5000 but she hasn’t received it to date.”

There was another blunder at the Nedbank Matha series in Limpopo last weekend when race leader Wirimai Juwawo was directed off the route by a marshal in the closing stages of the race.

Some athletes feel betrayed by the ASA leadership. Reuben Ramolefi, a 3000m steeplechase runner, said: ”Let us stop the lies of saying all is well with ASA. Things are not right. There are serious problems within the federation, which have to be addressed soon before things get worse.

”We have taken the first step to bring the athletes together and we have to meet and make resolutions that will help the sport improve.

”We are not happy with the state of affairs at ASA. Those who think they will hold on to power forever should not forget. God put them in power and God will bring them down. It is only a matter of time before they bite the dust,” said Ramolefi.

Former sprinter Geraldine Pillay shares his sentiments: ”All is not well in ASA and athletes are concerned about the sponsors pulling the plug on the sport. We want to know where the sport is headed as we face a bleak future. We have to find solutions to these problems.”

The athletes are expected to convene a meeting in the coming weeks to try to find a solution to their problems.

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Lucky Sindane
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