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by Michelle Carnegie
26 March 2018

With barely a week to the Old Mutual Two Oceans Ultra Marathon many prominent running clubs whose elite runners dominate the South African running scene, had to scramble around to redesign their running kit for these elite runners.
So why has this been done? And in particular what is happening within Athletics South Africa (ASA) that has forced these clubs to change their kit for elite runners? We tried to find out by speaking to various significant role players within the running community.
Some background
Many runners have probably seen situations where - on the start line – race officials covered up the name of the sponsors on the vests of elite athletes. In some cases this not only caused huge confusion amongst social and elite runners alike, but also lead to a very unsettling start for many an elite athlete who depends on prize money.
The most recent and notable covering of the name of a big sponsor came at the recent Liquid Telecom Grand Prix Series where - just before the event - race officials covered up the name of the sponsor on the vests of various elite athletes. ASA later sent out an apology letter calling the whole incident a “technical glitch”.
Then followed another huge race - Om die Dam - which in itself was described by elite and social runners alike as the biggest chaos they have ever experienced. Further to this, many elite runners had to then also endure race officials pulling them aside at the start, and covering their sponsor’s names on their vests – in many cases with the brightest pink tape to be found.
Why is this happening?
In October 2017 ASA incorporated an IAAF rule regarding kit for “elite” or “elite seeded” athletes competing in “Gold Status” races such as Two Oceans, Om die Dam, Cape Town Marathon, Comrades etc.) Simply put, the rule limits the extent to which club and personal sponsors can brand a running vest worn by an athlete in competition.
Practically this is what it means: a sponsor may no longer have their name and branding proudly displayed on the vest of the athlete, which it supports financially. It’s branding is limited to the top corner of the vest. Technical sponsors are permitted an even smaller amount of space on the vest.
Elite runners and their clubs/sponsors are up in arms, many speculating that by doing this ASA is hampering the growth of the sport and corporate support for talented athletes, especially as many of them depend on running as an income.
One of the biggest frustrations amongst elite runners, their clubs, sponsors and team managers is that the rule is being interpreted differently by each race official. It seems no one really knows what is going on. Even some provincial athletics authorities aren’t very sure what the new rules involve, with some approaching Richard Stander, head of ASA, requesting clarity on the new rules.
Elite runner Ann Ashworth
Ann Ashworth, elite runner, captain of the all women’s elite team Massmart, and Johannesburg based advocate, says firstly it is very important to keep in mind that a sponsor pays for branding on an athlete.
“Sponsors gain exposure from being visible on the kit of athletes at races and prize giving. If you take away or limit that exposure, you should also expect to lose or limit the amount of sponsorship available to athletes (many of whom depend on sponsorship as a source of income) and clubs (such as mine which would not exist without a corporate sponsorship and which seeks to promote excellence within the sport)”, says Ashworth.
She explains that though ASA has adopted this rule "to bring SA in line with IAAF rules", in doing so it completely ignores the running club culture in South Africa, and severely prejudices the athletes who rely on club sponsorship to survive.
“The leadership within ASA are going to destroy pro and elite level road running by eradicating corporate and technical sponsor support for athletes who have the potential to make South African road running great. Why a South African athlete taking part in a South African race cannot wear South African club colours approved by their province escapes me. To impose international rules on local races which severely prejudices local runners really is ridiculous,” says Ashworth.
In my view the amendments concerning advertising (on kit, race numbers and license numbers) have only one purpose – to draw sponsorship to ASA, and in so doing, draw sponsorship away from clubs and individual athletes.”
She explains that according to Chapter 1 of the new regulations, different sets of rules will apply to different kinds of races. “Our ‘ordinary’ local races, as scheduled on a provincial race calendar (e.g. our recent Pharmaton marathon in Edenvale) are subject to one set of rules (“Rule Set A”), while “mass participation events” on the ASA national fixture list, including those races with IAAF/AIMS labels (e.g. Om Die Dam, Cape Town Marathon and Two Oceans) are subject to a different set of rules (“Rule Set B”).  

Practical implications
As a practical example take the club colours for Massmart which were consistent with the rules regulating kit and advertising in 2017.  “Our kit bears our sponsors name at a height of 4cm and the width of the chest. Central Gauteng Athletics approved this kit and our team has worn this kit at all events appearing in the provincial race calendars without issue.”

"Roughly 10 days ago, we were notified that the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon is a gold status event (i.e. it has IAAF accreditation) and so our elite seeded athletes must comply with a different set of rules.  For these athletes, of whom there are 4, our sponsor branding may be 4cm high but only 10cm wide. Interestingly – despite being a gold status event, the above rule ONLY applies to elite athletes.  If the team was prepared to give up our elite seeding, we could then wear our usual kit. BUT, if we won gold, we would be disqualified. A similar approach was adopted at Om die Dam. Non-elite athletes are not bound by these rules, even if their club is named after a sponsor. There is no reasonable explanation for this distinction.”

“If our team gets new kit for the bona fide elite athletes (with a sub 2h55 marathon time) to comply with the rules which regulate elite athletes, they will not be able to link up with their team mates wearing our original kit in order to compete for team prizes, as all members of a team must be wearing the same kit. We now have a situation where I have had to spend R30 000 to rebrand my team in order to get them compliant with the new rules applicable only to a gold status event,” says Ashworth.

Massmart is not the only club that had to redesign their kit for elite athletes. Others include the Nedbank Running Club as well as Maxed Elite, who just last week unveiled their new kit for elite athletes.

Ashworth says there was nothing wrong with Massmart’s kit prior to Two Oceans becoming a gold status event. “Our kit complied with the IAAF rules for elite athlete branding and with the ASA and IAAF rules which regulate non-elite runners for races on the provincial calendar.” 

She concludes by saying: “Our club culture is the backbone of running in South Africa. Without support (i.e. sponsorship), small clubs will fail financially to the ultimate detriment of the athletes which each club supports.”

The coach of coaches: John Hamlett
Hamlett, the only coach to have coached athletes to some 48 Comrades gold medals, agrees with Ashworth. He especially feels strongly that race officials are interpreting the “new” set of rules differently. “Right now we are sitting with hard handed officials who are all interpreting these rules differently.” He says he keeps on asking the same question: “Why is this being done?”
According to Hamlett the biggest impact this new rule has on elite athletes is that those elites who rely on sponsors and who run for their livelihood will end up with the minimum. “In other countries elite athletes actually get paid to just pitch up at a big race, not so in South Africa. Our athletes rely on sponsors, take that away and they have nothing.”
With the new set of rules, another problem arises: there are now two sets of rules for so called social runners and elite runners. “So what happens if by chance a social runner, who is branded by sponsors, wins a race? Will he or she then be disqualified when he or she crosses the line first because his or her club kit does not comply with “elite runner” standards?”
Hamlett argues that branding should be welcomed as it brings money to athletes and the sport we all love. “The front end guys are there for performance, they are there to win. ASA should be driving the front end of their business, because they are the guys who will take their country to the World Champs. Unfortunately the only thing ASA is doing right now is changing rules without speaking to the people it affects.”
Run24 approached ASA for comment but by deadline we still had no response. We are happy to publish ASA’s comment at any time they feel they are ready to share their view.

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