The Thinking Runner

TIME TO RESTRUCTURE  – Part 2 PRO-AM, Athletes, Clubs, Suppliers, Races and Events

 This section builds on the previous concept (Turning a Pyramid into a tree) and looks at some practical implications around defining and separating the roles / needs of competitive runners from participants while both contribute and receive from the sport)

Recent rule challenges at two SA championships, and prestigious races, have highlighted a need to question if the structure of our sport is still relevant:


As previously discussed, the roots of our club system are based on an amateur club structure in UK in the 1960’s. It is an excellent system that became extremely strong through the years of isolation.
The clubs have been primarily responsible for growth of races and the sport.

The innovation of year-round license numbers at that time saved the organizers (clubs) from printing and paying for numbers, and their use front and back is in line with IAAF rules. The introduction of Age tags was, and continues to be, another world leading innovation.

This combination led, and continues in many ways to lead the world and is a massive strength particularly for rural clubs:  No other country, (to my knowledge), can boast such a strong club structure.

By 1980’s a temporary license system was introduced to allow people to ‘taste’ the sport without committing to a club. This was a ‘day pass’ and provided further growth.

Commercial and sponsorship interests commenced as far back as mid 1970’s with Sanlaam, Lotto, Nedbank, Old Mutual and others buying the rights for the license number branding. Comrades numbers were first sponsored by Pepsi at this time.

Prize money entered in the 1980’s but was limited to R500 with only permit races allowed to offer more. In 1990’s as the country started to gain more international access, corporate sponsorship saw the introduction of club branding and retainers. This prompted ASA to negotiate with the IAAF for a relaxation on the kit advertising rules for domestic events only.  Prize money started to soar upwards for major events, but in real terms was still a fraction of international due to exchange rates.

The mid 1990’s saw massive steps forward in technology including chip timing, easily managed data bases, and small portable computing.

We need to recognize that the end solution of a 4 number system is NOT the doing of ASA, but rather a solution evolved / initiated to a large extent from Chip / Bib timing, where companies require something to ‘hang their chip on.’

Keep in mind these companies, many of whom have no direct affiliation to the sport are impacting on the rules, yet take around R6- R8 per timing mat from the sport (and add to entry costs)

By example lets consider a club 42k / 21k 10k event with say 5000 runners overall and each runner being timed say between 2 and three times:  The timing company will earn in excess of R120000 from that single event. On top of that will be admininstrative and number costs etc.. So these companies have an significant impact on the sport, and yet most are unaffiliated / or accountable to the sport.

While all of these aspects have impacted on the way large events have been organized and the way on which top performers have been rewarded, the opening into international competition, a reduction in media coverage of local sport (in favour of previously restricted international coverage), a wider selection of mass participation sports (triathlon, trail running mass cycling, etc) has made local sponsorship less appealing at club level for medium and small events. Little has changed for the rural clubs.

As with the country – The gap between the top and low end has simply grown apart, yet ironically the talent potential for the future exists in greater numbers at the small end of the scale.

Clearly things have substantially changed from 1960’s to 2017, but the founding structure has remained the same.


The Dam Wall principle:

To date the rules have been amended to try to fit these massive changes while working within the 50 year old structure, when mobile phones, faxes, mails, chip timing, and professionalism had never been foreseen, and was even banned.

Its equivalent to the little Dutch boy attempting to prevent a flood by putting his finger in a hole in a dam wall. The problem is that after 50 years the changes exceed the number of available fingers and that wall is going to (some will say has) break.

The practicalities of a new structure:

What is required is a new structure:

One that keeps the strength of the club structure and the concept of licensing: That allows for the diversity of event from rural to mass city marathon:

That promotes and rewards professionalism and elite with a focus on the performance;

That ensures credibility and integrity:

That attracts commercialism and media coverage of the competitive aspects.

Once the competitive structure is determined it automatically implies a total rewrite of the rules to utilize the new technology; to officiate the sport, and professionally run the administration.

Any organization has to set 5 and 10years goals and attempt to plan for the foreseeable future despite the speed of technological advances:

A brief overview:
I doubt any one person has the answers:

What follows is a starter viewpoint to share, but I’m patently aware it requires further detail, modification or could even be dismissed for a better option.

It is therefore shared if for no other reason than to stimulate thought and is presented in a serious of short points to give a potential direction.

Hopefully a more detailed proposal can be evolved to take our sport forward


Differentiate between competitive and participation runners:

 In a new structure we need to have clear definitions of differently motivated sectors in athletics: These could be defined in the following groups with the listed responsibilities and rewards

  • Podium Potentials

  • Elite are those who meet IAAF qualification level
    • Can negotiate unlimited income, retainers, appearance etc
    • Have role model responsibilities and privileges with the sport
    • The question of Domicile to be determined
  • Competitive: are those achieving provincial performance level (or slightly below as youngsters)
    • Have a limit on the amount they can earn in a month outside the prize money (simply to encourage them to step up to elite level)
    • Have role model privileges and responsibilities at provincial level in particular
    • The question of domicile to be determined
  • Contenders – are those who will switch between participation and contender depending on their podium potential in an event. Will primarily be club age group runners
    • By example: a 50-year-old who will run as a participant in the Cape Marathon, but be a contender in his or her local 10km or marathon.
    • By definition these runners will also be licensed by their club as participants and domicile rule will be applied.
  • The above are all considered as Podium Potentials in races and the following applies to them:
    • The purchase competitive license template from ASA and are entered on the data base. (This may be in addition to their normal club membership depending on level – and the cost may differ depending on level – see above)
    • This license is a two-number situation (and different colour to a normal club license) to be worn front and back and comes with an IAAF and ASA rule book, national fixture list and notifications.
    • The relevant age category will be a composite part of the race license.
    • They are updated by SMS, Mail etc of all rules and notifications
    • They abide and are adjudicated 100% of the time by 100% of the rules
    • EVERY race must provide an area at the front of the start to take these people (as an indication in a normal event that is around 50 people – in a Soweto marathon type event that’s 100 runners and in an SA champs that’s around 300 runners. In total in the country its around 2500 runners in Elite and Competitive
  • Participants:

  • Participants are licensed through clubs and then to province in the normal way and domicile rule applies. The aim being to maintain the strength of club structure.
  • There will be only ONE number for participants which is worn on the front and is different colour to competitive.
  • Certain relaxations are allowed for participants – eg the pacing rule is not applied, ONE earphone is allowed (allowing for safety but acknowledging use of music) (two where roads are closed?) plus other rules
  • Age category tags will and do not need to apply.
  • A participant – no matter where he / she finishes – may not win a performance prize.
  • Lucky draw prizes may be closed to ‘participants’ only (i.e not available to podium potentials)
  • Where possible participants are able to use mat to mat times for any qualifications
  • A club team award based total number of entries or finishers, (but not time), may be awarded to clubs (i.e encourage participation)


Having looked at the competition arena we now need to review the various club options:

There can effectively be three types of clubs:

  • Elite / Pro Clubs:

  • These may also have social or participation sections, but the pro/elite section is considered separate for administration of Podium Potential athletes.
  • They are allowed agreed levels of branding on kit for domestic events.
  • They have agreed IAAF level kit for national events (perhaps this can be one kit but this will be in the detail)
  • They pay a higher affiliation fee to ASA
  • They must have a qualified official, qualified coach, qualified manager registered to their club
  • They receive every notification and have a dedicated contact person at ASA
  • They have agreed levels of national media / broadcast exposure through ASA each year.
  • They abide by IAAF level rules and ASA rules 100% of the time
  • They are required to contribute to the sport in terms of role model, coaching and other input as negotiated (hosting an event, providing manpower or ….)
  • In short there is a negotiated investment and return to the sport and the club for the privilege of branding
  • The manager will be invited to technical meetings for major events where they have athletes
  • There may be a club in each province or select provinces, but negotiations and expectations are set at ASA level.
  • The domicile rule would probably not be applied to this level of club
  • Branded clubs:

  • These clubs are sponsored / branded but do not wish the costs / responsibilities of Pro Elite clubs.
  • They register with their province as a branded club.
  • The club must have one qualified official per 100 members and at least one qualified manager in each province
  • The branding on the vest is as agreed for domestic competition and MAY be required cover branding in International events depending on how local branding is configured.
  • There may be a negotiated agreement on exposure with the provincial body depending on values etc.
  • There may be the same branded club in each, or a number of, provinces but each registers with the province and the terms will be negotiated for each province on a national basis such that expectations are consistent
  • There will be a direct contact for club managers identified at provincial level
  • Local Club:


  • This is the unsupported community club as we understand it at present.
  • There is no visible branding on kit or in the competitive arena as defined by IAAF (eg can be on gazebo but then restriction on where it is erected)
  • The club must have one qualified official per 100 members
  • The club is solely organized in the domicile province. It may have a – chapter in another province but each is independently run and the name has no commercial attachment.
  • There will be a direct contact identified for club managers at provincial level

Suppliers into the sport:

Nowadays there are many companies that supply resources or services into the sport, from marqee and scaffolding suppliers, timing companies, to technical, marketing and event consulting companies.

Few of these are affliated to the sport, and so there is limited accountability to the sport for poor performance or adherence  to rules and expectations. This is a dangerous situation when considering many aspects, such as disaster management, particularly given that events are weekend events where there is no realy service or support from say the Marquee or scaffold companies over this period.

The proposal is that all suppliers – lets call them ‘money earners from the sport’ should be affiliated and on a list of approved suppliers: this would ensure a standard for the event: These could be in these sort of groupings:

  • Timing Companies, consultants, eventing companies, suppliers / branding agents etc:
    • These must apply on a bi yearly rotation to be accredited to ASA and agree to abide by terms and conditions
    • There is a fee for accreditation based on turnover in RSA in the sport
    • Failure to abide by code of practice has disciplinary implications
    • There will be a direct contact identified for suppliers etc at ASA and provincial level
  • Managers, Agents, club managers, Technical consultants
    • These must apply / renew yearly to be accredited to ASA and agree to abide by terms and conditions
    • There will be a course and examination to be accepted on the list
    • Where managing or representing athletes internationally the IAAF rule applies and overrides the need for local course and exam.
    • There is a fee for accreditation as manager and is based on level of club
    • Failure to abide by code of practice has disciplinary implications
    • There will be a direct contact person identified for national managers and consultants.

Races / Events

Since there is recognition of member’s difference in ambitions and objectives, there must also be different event categories meeting these requirements:


Events cannot be organized directly by Federation or provinces as these organization are the policing bodies for the sport:

Event organization is not a desirable component of their mandate.

Events can be, delegated, appointed, or using a bid system, allocated to clubs, accredited event companies or associations, but will be over-seen and under the guidance of the provincial federation and / or ASA. (i.e. follows the IAAF procedures for events such as Diamond league, World Championships, etc)


The primary group

  • Local races:

  • Normal club events organized by club
  • With or without sponsorship
  • May have technical consultant for advice but not delegated organization.
  • Meet local Safety in Sport Act requirements, measured and to ASA rules
  • Limit on total prize money and top prize money
  • Primarily targets participation and contender, (not competitive or elite) may / may not offer prize money
  • Minimal technical officials and use of ASA license only
  • Permit B races
    • Club event with sponsorships over a set value (cash or in kind)
    • May contract event company or consultants to undertake portions of organization
    • Meet local Safety in Sport Act requirements, measured and to ASA rules
    • Only use of accredited suppliers and timing companies
    • Limit (higher) on total prize money and top prizes.
    • Must reward age groups from 35-39, 40-49 and all upper 10 year age groups to 70+ providing minimum of 3 competitors
    • Target entry is participation, contenders and competitive runners (not elite)
    • May have Race numbers if applied for.
    • Must have separate Referee for Men / Women others based on competitive numbers with 1 additional for each 2000 participation runners
  • Permit A races
    • Club or Association or appointment of accredited event company under federation supervision.
    • Must have an appointed provincial / National technical delegate
    • Must meet all requirements of Safety in Sport Act, Measurement and
  • International / Championship Races (AIMS events, Internationally recognized, IAAF etc)
    • These events must meet all requirements of the permit A races plus those of the various associations involved.

This outline provides a taste of a possible structure that could take the sport forward.

The principles are easily applicable to all disciplines of the sport including ultra trail cross country track field etc.

(keep in mind that the IAAF will be combining a number of commissions into one called ‘Running’ in the coming year. This will cover XC, Road, Mountain, Ultra, trail, etc. RSA will presumably do the same.

Track and field will follow similar principles for competitive levels.

The rules and administrative structure that needs to be applied will become obvious as the above athlete, club and competitive structure is evolved. In other words design the admin to fit the needs, not the other way around which is the current error. The administrative and implemention must be on a professional manner. This then allows the policy and decision making structure to be based on a blend of amateur and professional representation which is likely to have to follow the new shape of the IAAF.

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