Unemployed Olympian Gongqa struggles to find a new club after parting ways with Nedbank
Former Two Oceans Marathon champion Lungile Gongqa is struggling to make ends meet. The man who represented South Africa in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics is looking for a new club after his contract with the Nedbank Running Club was not renewed in December due the uncertainty of races created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The 42-year-old Khayelitsha-born long-distance specialist is at pains when he thinks about his struggle to put food on the table. Gongqa used to receive a monthly stipend from Nedbank, but after his contract ended he no longer receives any form of income.
The last time that he took part in a race was in March 2020 at a local road race in East London. He says that he has no plans to retire from the sport, but fears that people will forget him as he is no longer active. "I am unemployed and when Nedbank did not renew the contract that was the end of me. I live with my sisters and do not have a job. I am not a track and field athlete. I do long-distance races and all the marathons are being canceled left, right, and center," Gongqa told #TheTopRunner.
Nedbank Running Club team manager Nick Bester also confirmed that Gongqa's contract was not renewed. He said the Dream Team did not renew the contracts of many of their runners because they are no guarantees of races. Bester advises runners to get a full-time job so that they do not depend on running as their only source of income. He said he sympathized with Gongqa but there is nothing that he or the banking giant can do for him.
"Yes, Lungile and many of our runners' contracts did not get renewed. A lot of runners are suffering but they are no races and we are losing money. We can't keep on paying them while they are sitting at home. You can't blame us as sponsors because we are bleeding. Races must come back so that we can help the runners again. I've heard of Lungile and other runners' sad stories but there is nothing that I can do to assist them they must get a job. You can't rely on running only times are tough. We did not renew a lot of contracts," Bester told The Top Runner.
To make matters worse, Gongqa's father died in September last year and he says that broke his heart. The Two Oceans Marathon which he won in 2017 got canceled earlier this month due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Comrades Marathon also suffered a similar fate as it got canceled for the same reasons. It means that in order for Gongqa to race a marathon he would have to travel overseas and this is difficult without a club or a sponsor.
"I am still a runner and have no plans of retiring and I am calling on potential backers to come to my rescue. I desperately need help. I do not have the money to go overseas and run there. In SA, I do not think that there will be a marathon that we will run this year. Forget about it. I have to settle for the 10km races locally and they do not pay a reasonable amount of money. They pay as little as R1600 for winning a race. You need money for transport, supplement, and running gear from your small winnings. I have no form of income and I am frustrated. For the record, I do not blame Nedbank for not renewing my contract. There are no guarantees that we will race as races keep on being canceled and it's not their fault. They paid me the retainer for six months without running and they cannot keep on spending on runners who are not active," explained Gongqa.
The soft-spoken runner told the Top Runner that there's no hope of running a marathon in the country as Athletics South Africa does not allow organizers to stage races that exceed more than 250 runners. "The big sponsors want a return on their investments and they will not spend a lot of money on a few runners. I do not have an agent that can help me get a sponsor. I am on my own. I am currently looking for a job and the worst part is that I do not have any form of education. I did not go to school and relied on running, but now that running is not helping me, I have to go and find a job," said the hard-broken marathoner.
He said his biggest regret is not going to school as he urged younger athletes to get an education and not focus solely on athletics. "I am stuck in the Eastern Cape with no way out with my sisters who look to me as a provider. As a man, you have to be a breadwinner, but I am failing dismally," he said. Gongqa did not receive the Covid-19 relief fund money of R20 000 from the sports minister Nathi Mthethwa's office last year. He said he did not receive provincial relief funding from the MEC's office either. "I do not have internet access and I do not have an email address and did not understand the process. Some of us are villagers and this process requires a lot of paperwork and emails to be sent to them. I had no access to the process and ended up watching other runners getting paid," he added.