Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 139, March 2021 - Page 48

SAYS sport man says by MANFRED SEIDLER
The Athletics Career Dilemma


SAYS sport man says by MANFRED SEIDLER

The Athletics Career Dilemma
A recent post on Facebook by one of South Africa ’ s former greats , Tebogo Masehla – the SA Record Holder in the 3000m Steeplechase since 2011 – lamented the fact that athletes should not rely on the sport of athletics as a long-term career , but should have a back-up plan in the form of a second career or something to fall back on . Many railed against Tebogo , saying that it is indeed possible to make a career out of the sport , harkening back to “ the good old days ” of about 20 years ago . Others agreed that it is not possible under the current set-up , and the conversation became quite heated .

In the late 90 ’ s , athletics was indeed in a ‘ good place .’ There were a number of top clubs that paid athletes well , namely Mr Price , Rentmeester , Liberty Nike and a couple of others . We also had the very successful Engen and Absa track and field series , and a number of well-paying road races , in addition to Comrades and Two Oceans . So there was good cause to say that athletes could make a decent career out of the sport . The fact that only few did , however , is addressed a little further down in this column .

Unfortunately , that picture became very different within a few years . On the track , the Engen Series was no more after 2003 , and in 2005 the ABSA Series came to an end as well , to be replaced by the Yellow Pages Series in 2007 , but at a muchreduced rate in terms of sponsorship and prize money . Meanwhile Old Mutual had been replaced by Nedbank as the main sponsor of road running , resulting in the Nedbank Matha Series in 2006 , which paid handsome prize money , but the Nedbank sponsorship came to a controversial end in 2009 .
As many of the big payday races dried up , so too did the elite club scene . Mr Price became Maxed Elite and shifted their focus to ultra running . Liberty Nike also vanished from the scene , and all of a sudden track and field in South Africa was a shadow of what it had been less than 10 years prior .
Running After the Money
Now you ’ d think that during the heyday of the sport , athletes should have been making proverbial hay in terms of earning money , yet you can count those who did on one hand . They were the exception , not the rule , and most of the athletes of that era ended their competitive careers without much to show for it in terms of savings or investments they could really live off post-career . The question is , why ? Were they equipped to make the most of their best years , and to deal with life after sport ?
Nowadays , in the current scenario ( pre-COVID , of course ), only the very best athletes can command big enough retainers that they can live off . Most have to supplement their small retainers with race winnings in order to survive – and the prize money is nowhere near what it used to be . So times are tough for athletes , in general .
So why did , and why do , athletes not come away from a 10- to 15-year career with decent earnings and savings ? And who needs to help make sure this can and does happen ? What is important to note here is that an athlete ’ s competitive career in any sporting code , is just a stepping stone , not a ‘ lifelong career ’ that they can pursue till they reach the normal retirement age of plus-minus 60 . Only a handful of athletes such as Usain Bolt , Lionel Messi or Roger Federer can literally retire outright after their sporting careers , and they are the exception , not the rule . In South Africa , this is even more pertinent , in that there are very few athletes in any sporting code who can retire outright after their sporting careers , and in athletics it is pretty much unheard of .
Role of Sponsors and Federation
One of the participants in the Facebook chat is involved in sport sponsorship , and he raised the point that sponsors provide support to athletes who are aligned with their brand , in the form of product , cash , or both . And then the sponsor expects something in return , i . e . increased brand awareness , and preferably a tangible
Images : Roger Sedres / ImageSA , Tobias Ginsberg & courtesy Audi SA
48 ISSUE 139 MARCH 2021 / www . modernathlete . co . za