Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 127, February 2020 - Page 23

exceptional job in a very short space of time. Boxer has athletes who are coming through the development ranks, while Nedbank, in a radius of just 300km up in the “North” have Enoch Skosana’s development squad in Pretoria, Pio Mpolokeng’s group in the Northwest and Siyaya Koza’s squad in Gauteng, all of which are tasked with finding and coaching the next generation of running talent. Meanwhile, Entsika has joined forces with legendary athletes Willie Mtolo and Hendrick Ramaala, and Coach Sponge Michael Seme (the man behind the success of Stephen Mokoka and Glenrose Xaba), to assist with coaching its marathon and Comrades runners. And of course with its support and sponsorship of Vorentoe High School, Murray & Roberts is also doing its part. So let’s put that myth about elite clubs just being poachers to bed right here. Transfer of Allegiance So a club identifies an athlete it wants to sign. Now what? Because there are no clear guidelines from a national point of view about professional runners and elite clubs – and we will get into that later – the clubs have by and large come up with their own rules and contracts. So clubs will offer athletes a contract that may include payment in money, or product, or travel assistance to events, or some combination of these. Nothing untoward about that, it is in normal business procedure, a contract of employment with running (work) in exchange for money, product or assistance (payment). And if an athlete does not like a club’s rules and conditions, they do not have to join that club, just as nothing forces me to work for a company if I do not like its set-up. So far, so good, sounds simple enough, but here is where one of the biggest problems now raises it head. It’s all fine when an elite club discovers a new talent and signs them up, but what if that athlete was already a member of a community club, or signed up to another elite club? Here is where it becomes a bit tricky... although, in principle it shouldn’t be. The way the ASA rules work, is that at the end of each calendar year, athletes become free agents and can move to any club they want to. All they require is a release letter from their current club, and there are two reasons for this form. Firstly, so that the athlete is no longer registered on the provincial database as being with club X, but rather club Y, as this will have an impact on results. And secondly, to confirm that the athlete is in good standing with the club he or she is leaving, and is not under suspension. This is because clubs often assist their athletes financially with gear, small loans or in other ways. The athlete has to return the gear and repay those loans before they can move on. No issues there at all. But here’s the big question: What if an athlete has been with club X for five years, and that club has invested in that athlete in the form of coaching, kit, transport to races, perhaps even accommodation for some races? Now, however, the club no longer has the resources to pay the athlete a retainer, or perhaps the athlete feels that in order to further their career, they need to move to another club? Is it fair on the athlete to not let him/her go and join a different club, or as so often happens, accuse them of not being loyal? It has happened too many times to count, and continues to happen. Furthermore, is the club that can afford to pay this athlete stealing/enticing them away? This new club is in most cases also looking for podium finishes, team prizes and the publicity that top runners bring, so it is in their interests to sign that calibre of athletes. And it is these top level elite clubs that make it possible for our top athletes to run professionally, or at least semi-professionally, thus creating the environment for faster times and more riveting racing, better stories for the media, and thereby help keep the money in road running. But should the club that spent all those years developing this athlete, not get some form of compensation for their time, effort and investment? Lessons from Football Because we have not yet found that happy medium of true professionalism in South African road running, the football (soccer) transfer market provides a model that our sport could look at in order to plot a course into true professionalism. In professional football, club A develops a young player and can then sell that player’s contract to club B, receiving a transfer fee as agreed upon by both clubs. The player’s contract with club B is a negotiation between club B and the player, who normally sings on a set number of years. These transfers only happen in two international transfer windows, i.e. January and July-August, and the transfer deal only happens if the player leaves club A (for whatever reason) for club B during his contract period with club A. If a player in the final year of his contract with club A lets it be known that he wants to leave, and the club cannot or chooses not to “sell him” to another club, then after that year comes to an end, the player Pro runners outside of SA tend to be sponsored by athletic brands, which brings a new look to label races like the FNB Cape Town 12 ONERUN 23