A club that shows it val­ues its Com­rades

Entsika en­sures there are no fall­ing stars in its ranks

The Sunday Independent - - News - MATSHELANE MAM­ABOLO

THE Com­rades Marathon, as with other road-run­ning com­pe­ti­tions in ma­jor cities across the world, has be­come a big and pop­u­lar event. Yet it’s hard to come across any club man­age­ment that thinks about the ath­letes holis­ti­cally.

But there is this par­tic­u­lar group of ath­letes who do ex­actly that, and even more. They don’t just care about their run­ning ca­reers now but are con­cerned about what will hap­pen to fel­low ath­letes when they reach the twi­light of their ca­reers and re­tire from be­ing pro­fes­sional sports­men.

Renowned Com­rades Marathon cham­pion maker John Ham­lett is like a kid in a sweet shop, ex­cited at hav­ing fi­nally teamed up with a cor­po­rate that is in­ter­ested in more than just us­ing his run­ners as a bill­board. In Entsika Con­sult­ing, Ham­lett and his group of elite run­ners have a car­ing man­age­ment that does not pay lip ser­vice to in­vest­ing in its peo­ple.

It is a rar­ity in sports, an in­dus­try that gen­er­ally treats its pro­po­nents like a gum – chew them for all their flavour and then spit them out. It is com­mon knowl­edge that the town­ships and vil­lages of South Africa are teem­ing with for­mer sports stars who have fallen on hard times. In Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, where to­day’s Com­rades Marathon started, lives for­mer su­per­star Mbulelo Mabizela, the epit­ome of just how un­kind sport can be.

How can we for­get the sad tale of world cham­pion boxer Baby Jake Mat­lala who died a pau­per? Entsika is in­tent on en­sur­ing that the likes of Gift Kelehe, David Gatebe, Charles Mkhonto, Gor­don Le­setedi and the rest of the Entsika Ath­let­ics Club do not swell the ranks of this sorry rags-to-riches-to-rags tale.

“We could eas­ily have just come in and paid these guys stipends, got them to run in our colours, and get all the glory when they suc­ceed,” said Entsika founder and di­rec­tor Zakhele Mkhize.

“But as a com­pany we are more than that. As our motto states, we are ‘driven by a de­sire to make a dif­fer­ence’ and when we de­cided to team up with John’s team we asked our­selves, how can we make a dif­fer­ence in these guys’ lives?”

An­other di­rec­tor, Clif­ford Makoloane, added: “I sat down with each of the run­ners in the club in­di­vid­u­ally to un­der­stand ex­actly who they are, where they are in life and what their goals are – both in run­ning and af­ter­wards.”

In­stead of giv­ing the ath­letes stipends, as is the case with most clubs where run­ners are then forced to com­pete in just about ev­ery race as they strive to make ends meet, Entsika also af­fords their run­ners work op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Charles Mkhonto, who was run­ning his sec­ond Com­rades to­day, is al­ready a ben­e­fi­ciary of this pro­ject.

“I was a petrol at­ten­dant just re­cently, but now they have given me a job in the of­fice and have also taken me to train­ing. I was able to go to a train­ing camp in Dull­stroom for two months with­out wor­ry­ing about what my fam­ily would eat be­cause it is paid leave.”

The knowl­edge that they have a spon­sor which sees them not as bill­boards but as hu­man be­ings puts the ath­letes at ease.

It is ap­par­ently in Entsika’s DNA to help make a dif­fer­ence, and the com­pany has also given bur­saries to nu­mer­ous stu­dents through­out the coun­try.

One of its ben­e­fi­cia­ries, Phaka­mani Mn­gomezulu, went on to be­come a doc­tor. Sadly he died in a car ac­ci­dent and was buried yes­ter­day. The Entsika Club mem­bers ran the Com­rades in his hon­our to­day.

“In­stead of buy­ing bill­boards, we’d rather put the money into de­vel­op­ing peo­ple of our com­mu­ni­ties,” Mkhize ex­plained.

“With the ath­letes, we are not just sup­port­ing them in their run­ning.

“We are also get­ting them pro­fes­sion­als to help men­tor them in any ar­eas of their in­ter­ests that they want to pur­sue af­ter run­ning, as well as to help them with fi­nan­cial ad­vice.”

With such a com­pany back­ing them, Kelehe, Latudi Mako­fane and Siya Mqam­beli are un­likely to be­come sta­tis­tics swelling the ranks of for­mer sports stars who have fallen on hard times.

IN GOOD HANDS: Com­rades Marathon cham­pion maker John Ham­lett and his group of elite run­ners have a car­ing man­age­ment that does not pay lip ser­vice to in­vest­ing in fel­low ath­letes.

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