'We're gonna be announcing a new sponsor soon' - CMA as Gift Kelehe berates them over prize money
You could cut the tension with a knife when Gift Kelehe stepped up to the microphone to ask Comrades Marathon bosses why the prize money for the 95th edition of The Ultimate Human race has been slashed. Kelehe was one of four former champions including Bruce Fordyce, Edward Mothibi and Charne Bosman who attended the launch of the 2022 race, which took place at the Southern Sun Rosebank last week. The 2015 winner was left shaking his head when Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) Race Director Rowyn James announced that this year's champion would take home almost half of what Mothibi won in 2019.
"Yes we understand that the pandemic has had an impact on everyone but it doesn't say they must not go and look for sponsors. It's their job as race organisers and as the Comrades Marathon Association to go and look for sponsors. Now they are telling us the prize money is down because there is no sponsorship, but its just a lay excuse for me because they had two years to knock on the doors of corporate services and look for sponsorships," the outspoken Kelehe told #TheTopRunner after the launch.
James though insists that the total purse of R2 720 000 makes the 100 year old race the richest ultra marathon in the country even if the winner will only take home R260 000 compared to the half a million of two years ago. Explaining why they have had to cut the prize money while almost doubling the entry fee to R1200, CMA Vice Chairperson Les Burnard made it clear that their hands were forced by the prevailing economic climate precipitated by the ban on mass participation events which came as a result of the Coronavirus National Lockdown.
“Comrades has two main revenue streams which are entry fees and sponsorships. The organisation structure was reviewed and as a result staff had to be retrenched, sadly so. Our current budget reflects a deficit of R6,4 million for the year. This is partly due to the entry numbers being limited to 15 000 runners. A costing exercise done in 2019 revealed that it cost R1384 for every runner on the road and our entry fee is less than that so sponsorship is required to fund the balance,” he explained.
But Kelehe is unmoved. Supported by his coach John Hamlett, the pair warned organisers not to devalue the event by cutting budgets, adding that the best runners will start turning away from the 90km ultra marathon if the prize money continues to drop. "They misunderstand what an athlete needs to do to win Comrades. It takes up to ten years for an athlete to prepare. So if you putting R260 000 which basically equates to less than R2000 a month over a ten years for a world class athlete. If we wanna be world class then we need to pay our world class athletes world class prices," said Hamlett.
Kelehe and Hamlett will be buoyed then by James' has hint that all is not said and done leading up to race day on 28 August because more commercial partners are waiting in the wings to get behind this year's Down Run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. "I think the key message we wanna get out is that Comrades is not in trouble financially. Through the foresight of Comrades in previous years they've built up reserves that they've been able to draw on. We can see now that pulling out of the Covid pandemic era that the sport is starting to pick up. Corporates are starting to come back to the sport as well and we are gonna be announcing a new sponsor fairly soon in the next two weeks so things are looking up," he concluded.