Johannesburg - South African Airways (SAA) will contribute R4.7 million to carry South Africa's teams to London for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The announcement, which came close to 100 days before the start of the Games, was made at a signing ceremony jointly hosted by SAA and the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) in Kempton Park on Tuesday.
Speaking at the event, the chairperson of the SAA board of directors, Cheryl Carolus, said they were honoured to support the teams by flying them to London.
The sponsorship comes in the form of air tickets which allows participating athletes and officials to fly with the national carrier for both quadrennial Games.
The occasion was attended by a host of dignitaries including the Minister of Public Enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, and the Minister of Sport and Recreation, Fikile Mbalula.
SASCOC president Gideon Sam said they had spoken to a Qatari airline about a possible sponsorship, but SAA did not want to allow a foreign country to be the official carrier of the national team.
“I have to say that patience is indeed a virtue," Sam said.
"We have been 'courting' SAA for some time now although we were obviously mindful that the current economic situation worldwide is impacting on all businesses.
"A chance meeting with the SAA chairperson created that gap for us to raise the matter again.
"She was adamant that it would be over her dead body that the pride of South Africa must be transported to and from the Games on a foreign carrier.
“The rest is history and here we are today to say thank you to a most welcome new partner.”
Mbalula said all athletes in the SA team needed to understand that they were ambassadors and would have to sharpen their tools to represent the hopes of millions of South Africans.
He added that sponsors were a vital cog in the country's Olympic aspirations.
“These people in sport don’t have a floating budget, they rely on things and support from SAA and other parastatals,” Mbalula said.
“And if you threaten us now about banning alcohol adverts, we are going to go down and down in terms of support.
“So, I hope SAA will increase the amount when you ban alcohol, from R4 million to R10 million.”
Mbalula said sponsorships needed to extend beyond the London Olympic Games as the future of South African sport was geared towards 2032.
“I know our team will do us proud. We are targeting 12 medals,” he said.
“If we do less, please do not be angry with us, our preparations are afoot and we still need your support in both carrying our team and injecting financial money into the federations.
“We need money, not just flying tickets, because we must pay people, and most of these people, they don’t work, they are volunteers.”