Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 153 October 2022 | Page 21

Images : Tobias Ginsberg , Anthony Grote & courtesy Jill Lategan
Runners were reluctant to join clubs and pay for annual licences while races were in lockdown
license fee , because there were no races . This meant that an important source of income for both ASA and the provinces dried up .
Secondly , instead of running races most weekends , runners started to gather in groups to do social runs . They set up their own routes , even set up refreshment points on the longer routes , and after the run had a coffee and chat . Of course , there were no traffic officials , no goody bags , no medals , no T-shirts , etc ., but the runners were happy . They were out there and running , and still had the camaraderie experienced at races . Yes , the vibe wasn ’ t quite the same , and all those ‘ extras ’ were not available , but this was only temporary , right ? Well , no ... because what COVID also did was expose the flawed pricing of racing , i . e . entry fees . ( I covered this in a previous column , titled No , Races are NOT Too Expensive .)
In essence , when lockdown restrictions were relaxed and things opened up again , races had become radically more expensive , for a number of reasons , but the biggest one was that many sponsors had been lost ( or vastly reduced ). This was because the sponsors , like everyone else , had suffered a major cash shortfall during lockdown , and there was no ( or far less ) spare cash to use for marketing in the form of sponsoring and supporting events . Also , service fees had gone up to make up for two years of shortfall – for example , municipalities had lost income because people couldn ’ t afford to pay rates and taxes , which meant these municipalities could not provide sporting events with the necessary services and amenities at the same pre-COVID prices , and had to push up their prices .
The Nett Effect
The result of all this is that we now have fewer road races on the calendar , as a number of races have been cancelled . ( It remains to be seen if they are permanently gone , or will return when things settle down again .) Now , it ’ s not necessarily a bad thing that some races have been shelved , as the calendar was certainly , in my opinion , saturated – that is another point for discussion at a later stage – but less races means less income for the clubs and the provinces .
Also , entries are down in most events , as many runners are still feeling the economic pinch after the lockdown period and have less disposable cash for
entering races , so they are running less races . Again , that means less income for clubs and provinces . ( On the other hand , more and more trail events are springing up , most of them outside of the official athletics structures , but that , too , is a discussion for another day .)
Furthermore , many road runners have decided that being a club member is only worth it if they run X number of races in a year , to avoid paying more than the one-off Provincial Licence fee in accumulated Temporary License fees . The diehard , hardcore runners will still join their club , and those who want to run Comrades have to do so , as you cannot enter the Big C unless you are a club member , but for many it ’ s become a case of “ I am running less races , so it isn ’ t worth it to be part of a club and pay club fees .”
Time for a Rethink
This is why I say that the administrative side of the sport needs to rethink how it serves the sport , and where it obtains its income from . Similarly , clubs need to rethink and find new ways to once again attract runners , and races need to start offering an experience , not only a race , in order to attract both entries and sponsors .
I ’ ve always believed that looking after the elite runners is not the responsibility of the social running clubs or runners . It is not up to an Edgemead Running Club , Randburg Harriers , Savages , or any other club , to put on races that are fast and flat and provide the elites with good prize money . I firmly believe that is where the provincial and national federation come in . Yes , at times it makes sense to piggyback or partner with a club ’ s race , but the onus is not on the clubs to look after that element .
This , then , provides an opportunity for the administration of the sport to create a circuit that primarily caters to the elite athletes . For starters , the provinces should not only look at how they operate , but also add an eventing division to their set-up . That would include marketing and income-generating means , and it would actually assist the front-end of the sport , as the needs of elites are very different to those of the social runner .
One way to achieve this would be for provinces to combine forces and host a series of interprovincial races , on road , track and cross country surfaces , and we could look at a North vs South scenario , etc . It requires thinking outside the box . It also means that the administrators of the sport , both national and provincial , need to have two arms – an elite body and a social body . Yes , there will some be overlap , but the two really are vastly different .
Getting Back to Entry Fees …
Many runners have complained this year about high entry fees . Some races have charged more and been quite successful … because they offer an experience . It is not just another race . That experience goes all the way from the build-up to the event , right through the run to the finish . The way I look at things , if I want something special but I cannot afford it , then I make sacrifices to other elements of my life to be able to afford it . And the same applies to races . You can charge more , but offer something new , something unique , even if you cut back on other more traditional elements .
My point here is that clubs and races can no longer just do the same things they did in pre-COVID days . Maybe clubs need to pool resources and work together in presenting races , instead of all trying to put on separate races . Could that result in something new ? What about out-of-town races ? Do they include small business or regional tourism to attract the outof-towners ? ( Disclaimer : I know some races do that already , and am merely using this as an example .) The bottom line is that for the sport to grow , both on the front-end and in the social environment , a serious rethink is required .
The Absa RUN YOUR CITY Series events offer an ‘ experience ’ with fun activations and vibe
About the Author
Manfred Seidler is a freelance sport journalist who has been in the industry since 1994 , in both print media and broadcasting , covering four Olympic Games for SABC Radio , and producing various athletics shows for the SABC . Follow him on Twitter : @ sportmansa ; Facebook : Sport Man SA ; Instagram : sportman _ sa .