Runners compete in the annual Comrades Marathon between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Picture: 123RF/ LEON SWART
Runners compete in the annual Comrades Marathon between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Picture: 123RF/ LEON SWART

SA road runners have been dealt a crippling financial blow by the coronavirus pandemic and four-time Olympian Hendrick Ramaala fears that most of them may not be able to recover from the devastating loss of income for years.

Ramaala’s concern is that most athletes derive their income from prize money at races‚ unlike cricketers‚ footballers and rugby players, who are contracted to  federations.

With events cancelled or postponed as the lockdown continues to have a calamitous effect across the globe‚ athletes at Entsika Running Club in Johannesburg‚ where Ramaala is one of the head coaches‚ are spending sleepless nights over where their next pay cheques will come from.

“The majority that I coach stay in townships, in Alexandra‚  Diepsloot‚  Tembisa‚ Hillbrow and so on. It’s very difficult for them‚” said Ramaala‚ who represented SA seven times at the IAAF World Championships.

“Financially it is a big loss. I think the guys will not be able to recover for 2020. This year is gone for them.

“It is going to be between starvation or just giving up the longer this lockdown goes on‚” said Ramaala‚ a two-times world half marathon silver medallist.

“Imagine the financial resources we have contributed by being in camp since October last year to prepare for these races. We are not getting refunds for all the hotels and flight tickets‚ they give you vouchers. We are financially strained already.

“We have worked so hard since October getting the guys to peak for March and April because these are the months where it is peak season for athletics.”

The sports‚ arts & culture ministry this week made R150m available as a relief fund to help athletes‚ musicians and artists cope. Almost 4‚000 applications have been made.

While Ramaala applauded the government for its intervention‚ he fears the relief package may not cater for every athlete.

“I don’t know if it will cover the whole ground because there is a big demand. I hear it will cover not only the athletes but it will also cater for musicians and artists.

“Some athletes are lucky that they get stipends and training allowances‚ but those are elite athletes. The lesser-known runners are in for a rough ride.”

Ntshindiso Mphakathi‚ who lives in Soweto and has no sponsor‚ trains under Ramaala at Zoo Lake in Johannesburg and is also hopeful the sports ministry relief fund will come in handy.

“The way we see it‚ it is not going to be much. But I think half a loaf of bread is better than nothing. It is difficult if you are someone who has responsibilities back at home‚” said the Eastern Cape-born runner.

With the lockdown confining athletes to their homes‚ Ramaala has found ways to keep spirits up with his team.

“Since everybody has to stay at home, the only coaching you do is through video calls and WhastApp communication. I can’t meet the guys any more. Some have left the province and gone back home.”

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