Johannesburg - The Athletics SA (ASA) road running commission has reacted with disappointment to the timing of sponsors pulling out when road running seems to be on an upward curve.
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This week, auditing firm KPMG announced that it would not be renewing the sponsorship of its running club. This announcement followed that of Old Mutual, which last month said it would end its backing of the Comrades and Two Oceans marathons after next year’s races.
Both companies cited that “tough decisions had to be made” as they undergo strategic reshaping of their business models.
Commission chairperson James Moloi told City Press this week: “It is very discouraging that sponsors are pulling out when we are trying to build a team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“Right now, we are trying to invest more on road races. As we speak, we have put up a R50 000 bonus for a South African who will break the national record at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon on September 23.”
Moloi said ASA had also put aside R100 000 for the first local-born runner to cross the line at the Mother City race, which is Africa’s only IAAF Gold Label status marathon.
“But we are not folding our arms as ASA. We have a company looking after our commercial and marketing interest – Stillwater Sports – and one of its tasks is to source sponsors for road running. We will also try to engage with these companies who are withdrawing to reconsider their decision,” Moloi said.
“In the meantime, we have introduced incentives to encourage our runners, including for the team that represented South Africa well at the 100km World Championships [in Croatia last weekend].”
While the KPMG executive committee said it was currently in the process of trying to secure a new sponsor for the running club, Old Mutual has at least given its assurance that it will continue to sponsor the Soweto Marathon, “but through a different format”.
KPMG elite runner René Kalmer (37), who doubled as the athletes’ representative at the popular outfit, lamented the loss: “The runners work extremely hard and we need all the support and financial assistance to give running its rightful place in the sporting world out there.”
The former Soweto Marathon champion added: “It is a huge loss for the runners as the club was not only a running club, but a very close-knit family. So, for me, it is a double blow.
“Without corporate involvement, these elite clubs simply cannot function, so I truly hope that we can find a replacement sponsor to give the athletes a new home.”
The KPMG Running Club had just turned three – it was launched in September 2015.
Some other top athletes who donned the club’s blue and white vest are defending Spar grand prix champion Kesa Molotsane and former Comrades Marathon and Two Oceans Marathon winner Caroline Wöstmann.
Amid the setback, Molotsane remained optimistic.
“The end of a club’s sponsorship is not the end of my running, rather the start of great things for me as an individual. I am really grateful for all the opportunities that KPMG has given me. There is still so much more to be done, and I am looking forward to it.”
The company also announced that it would no longer sponsor the Vorentoe High School Running Academy in Johannesburg, an institution that has established itself as the dominant school in middle-distance races in the country.