SPORT MAN Says By Manfred Seidler The Transfer Market We very often hear of one athlete “jumping ship” from one club to another, or a club enticing an athlete to jump ship. That is often followed by club managers or committees complaining that they have invested time, money and coaching in an athlete, and the athlete has shown no loyalty or thanks by simply leaving. In turn, some athletes complain that the clubs are standing in their way of better opportunities, or a full-time career in the sport. This is a tricky situation, mainly because there really are no guidelines, never mind concrete rules, for all parties involved to navigate these issues. SA’s big ultra-marathons are dominated by the so- called pro clubs that are unique to this country Becoming More Professional In the 80’s and 90’s, road running was dominated by athletes who were mostly gainfully employed full-time outside of running. For example, RAC had some incredible athletes, including Bruce Fordyce, 22 Hoseah Tjale, Bob de la Motte and Mark Page, amongst others, and most had full-time jobs that they needed to factor into their training schedules. On the other hand, the mines with running clubs employed talented runners to work in their company structures, but rarely to do actual mining or hard labour, so that they could focus on their running, and the same could be said for the armed services and police services. Nevertheless, none of our athletes were in the true sense professional runners. Fast forward to the mid 90’s and beyond, and the mines were no longer in a position to employ athletes, nor were the police and armed services. It was simply not economically sustainable. Legends Nick Bester and the late Zithulele Sinqe did try for a number of years to resurrect that model through their partnership with Harmony Gold Mines, but when that deal collapsed, Nick turned to Nedbank. Quite successfully, too. Without Nick’s efforts, and that of ISSUE 127 FEBRUARY 2020 / www.modernathlete.co.za Nedbank, road running in South Africa would be in a very dark place now. The introduction of Nedbank saw corporate SA becoming involved in road running and contracting athletes to run for their teams. We had Liberty/Nike, Rentmeester, Mr Price, and later Bonitas, amongst others. In essence, these teams developed into corporate clubs. Some club members were paid a fee to race for the club, while others were merely club members. The current situation has Nedbank, Boxer, Murray & Roberts, Entsika, Maxed Elite and Massmart as the big clubs. And before anyone says that these elite clubs are only out to “steal” the best athletes from other clubs, be it from community clubs or other elite clubs, let’s be very clear, they all have a strong development system in place. In fact, Massmart was formed specifically to develop female ultra-running talent, and has done an T he South African club system is unique in the world. For starters, no other country has an equivalent of what we call “elite clubs,” like Nedbank, Murray & Roberts, Boxer, Entsika, Massmart, Maxed Elite or Arthur Ford. This club system is a legacy of the isolation years, when South Africa was excluded from international sport due to the country’s political policies, and is both the reason why road running was incredibly strong in the 80’s and 90’s on the front end, and also the reason why we are now facing some difficult questions. That’s because this club system was, in real terms, an amateur system, which in today’s world is simply not sustainable at the front end of the sport.