South African athletes slighted by Bolt’s new Telkcom deal

Although Usain Bolt has earned and deserves the title as the “World’s Fastest Man,” this doesn’t mean his fame or athletic prowess surpasses the pride athletes of other countries have in their own athletic ability.

This is evident in a recent controversy in South Africa involving telecommunications company Telkom SA SOC Ltd., Bolt and top South African athletes. Telkom recently announced Bolt as its company spokesperson to market its newest broadband technology.

“We believe that Bolt‚ as the fastest person in the world‚ will assist us in creating awareness of the speed‚ consistency and reliability that fiber technology offers,” said Telkom’s Chief Marketing Officer, Enzo Scarcella.

However, some South African athletes are peeved by the decision, including Anaso Jobodwana – who won the bronze medal in the 200 meters finals at the World Championships in Beijing, China earlier this year. The athletes felt snubbed that Telkom overlooked local sprinters to market its speedy broadband technology. Speaking on a South African radio program, Jobodwana said the decision to select Bolt sent a message that local athletes “are not good enough.”

In the company’s defense, Telkom spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan did say that Telkom would soon announce spokesperson deals with local athletes, with plans to incorporate them in the company’s marketing campaign next year for the Olympics.

But Coral Gables sports marketer Miguel Estrada says that selecting Bolt was more a matter of marketing than national fidelity.

“International companies routinely use internationally recognized sports or entertainment personalities to market their product,” says Estrada. “It seems natural that an international company promoting speedy Internet service would want to use the fastest human on earth. This is a powerful way to communicate its new technology.”

Estarda does, however, note that it’s “quite understandable why South African athletes may feel slighted, but any company will do what it thinks is the best strategy.”

Next year, Bolt will also be competing in the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Both Jamaicans and global track and field fans will be eagerly anticipating a hat trick for Bolt to win gold medals in the 100 and 200 meters, and in the 4 x 100 meters relay as he did in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics in Beijing and London respectively.

Despite being at the height of his career, both as an athlete and public figure, Bolt is considering stepping down from international competition after the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Bolt recently suggested that he could retire from international competition in 2017, and according to reports, is undecided about competing in the 2017 World Championships in London.

“But if Bolt wins gold in the both sprint races in Brazil, I doubt he’ll retire,” says Estrada. “As long as he continues to win, he’ll be an advertiser’s dream. More big contracts like that from Telkom will come chasing him. He won’t get those contracts if he retires.”


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