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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

ABSA return to athletics because they want a sport that's about 'participation'

ABSA's decision to return to athletics has injected optimism into a sport that has been one of the hardest hit by the Covid-19 lockdown. On Friday the South African banking giant announced a new four year deal that makes them the headline sponsor of the Run Your City Series previously sponsored by FNB. But what is most encouraging about this new development is that the former sponsor of the Premier Soccer League and the Springboks, say they chose athletics because of the very thing that has made the code enemy number one during the pandemic - mass participation.

Runners enjoying the Joburg leg of the 2021 Run Your City Series 10km virtual run. Photo Credit: Anthony Grote.

"We've been introspecting a lot over Covid about what we stand for as an organisation and how we want our brand to show up in the future," said ABSA Executive Geoff Lee when he broke the news during a virtual press conference. "As we shift our sponsorship focus from a viewer-led sponsorship focus where you could see the brand presented on the shirts of our rugby and football icons, to a sponsorship strategy which is really about participation the Run Your City Series was really attractive to us. It's about events where our colleagues and customers can show up and touch and feel the brand and live with it," said the man who leads a brand that was celebrated for being bedrock of South African athletics during the days of the ABSA Track & Field Series two decades ago.

Lee's revelation is telling. It signals a new beginning and an end to the collective depression that has gripped South Africa's most inclusive sport since March 2020. As 10 000 runners descend on The Mother City for the Cape Town Marathon in a few days and the Comrades Marathon set to go ahead in August 2022, the obvious question is will the Run Your City Series be able to satisfy their new sponsor's appetite for mass participation as running returns in a big way?

Shadrack Hoff and Enoch Skosana fight it out during the ABSA Series during the early 2000's. Photo Credit: Enoch Skosana.

Managing Director of Stillwater Sports Michael Meyer is hopeful that as lockdown regulations ease, we will once again be able to see the tens of thousands of runners that we saw before the Coronavirus changed the world. "Before the pandemic the Run Your City Series was very popular and voted in 2019 as the best running experience. But I think what the last eighteen months has taught us is that there is a huge focus on personal health and wellbeing and I think that ABSA's involvement will allow every South African access to live a healthy lifestyle," said the man whose company assists Athletics South Africa to commercialise many of their events.

Meyer is understandably bullish about running's ability to serve as a lifestyle marketing platform for big brands such as ABSA because the series comprises mainly 10km races. Recent World Athletics research suggests that almost 70% of people who run, choose a distance of 10km or shorter. "I think every city in which the event is held embraces the race. The numbers are large in normal times. So we look forward to the days when we can have 20 000 people running through the cities that the Run Your City Series will be held in," he concluded.

ENTRIES ARE OPEN for the 2021 Absa DURBAN 10K CITYRUN (taking place on Sunday 31 October 2021) and the Absa CAPE TOWN 12K CITYRUN (taking place on Sunday 21 November 2021). CLICK HERE for more information.

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