Johannesburg – The 2022 edition of the Soweto Marathon is rapidly approaching, and while the main topic of conversation has been the sluggish rate at which participants are registering, the greater issue is that “The People’s Race” is still without a major sponsor after Old Mutual withdrew its support in 2019.
For the uninitiated, the Soweto Marathon is not merely a 42.2km run (there are also the half marathon and 10km races), but rather a trip down memory lane through South Africa’s struggle against apartheid.
The monuments that form the whole marathon are such that you would expect firms to be vying for sponsorship opportunities.
Nowhere on earth does a race pass by the homes of Nobel Peace Prize winners. Runners also have the opportunity to pass by the homes of the late former South African president Nelson Mandela and the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
As if that were not enough, the path forms through Kliptown, the location where the ANC Freedom Charter was drafted. The same is true for that great school, Morris Isaacson Secondary, which played a significant role in the student uprisings of 1976. Does it need to be stated that the Hector Memorial Museum will be present at the race?
Isn’t it strange, then, that the race organizers are having difficulty selling this incredible history and heritage to sponsors?
Next year, according to Central Gauteng Athletics (CGA) president Steven Khanyile, they will be able to secure a sponsor for the race. He believes that the problem was caused by the Covid-19 outbreak and that, since then, they have been in communication with potential backers.
Both the Two Oceans Marathon and the Comrades Marathon were also hit by the pandemic, but both were able to obtain sponsors for this year’s races despite Old Mutual’s withdrawal. The 56km Cape Town ultra secured Totalsports, while the Comrades Marathon secured Mr. Price.
Why then does the Soweto Marathon lack sponsors?
Khanyile reports that institutions that initially expressed interest ultimately backed out. The individual who is also a member of the Soweto Marathon Board of Trustees believes that it is only a matter of time before corporations rush to link themselves with the marathon.
The reality in South Africa is that nearly three decades after the introduction of democracy, the financial muscle remains with whites, who are reluctant to support events that are largely black.
While smaller races conducted by white groups in the suburbs are flooded in sponsorships, township races continue to struggle.
But maybe even more disheartening is the fact that these wealthy black Soweto residents do not appear to see the value in investing in the race.
My task to the Soweto Trust is to get off their rear ends and sell the race with imagination. I have heard that they have engaged a “white” business to assist them. As if there were no black Sowetans capable of doing so. Then again, would “lily-white” South African corporations open their doors to persons of darker complexion?
This, however, will be the subject of a future column.
The Soweto Marathon may not be televised on SuperSport, despite the fact that Athletics South Africa (ASA) has inked a contract with the pay-channel, and the Soweto Marathon Trust has reportedly approached the SABC. Obviously, the Soweto Marathon should be shown on SABC, but it would be a disgrace if it were not included in the ASA/SuperSport arrangement.