People’s team still lacks regular sponsorship

2014-07-27 15:00

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A bicycle greets you in the corridor as you enter the upmarket Silky Oak House at Ballyoaks Office Park in Bryanston, Johannesburg.

This is the office of Mthunzi Mdwaba, an avid cyclist who holds a 55% stake in the professional cycling team, Team Abantu, which is isiZulu for the “people’s” team.

Mdwaba, who turns 47 next month, says he wants to transform cycling in South Africa. Being a cyclist himself for 14 years, he says the sport is close to his heart.

He describes his involvement in cycling as an “accident of life”, as he built his career as an entrepreneur across the music and information technology sectors.

“The sport is far more than cycling. It promotes discipline, teamwork and professionalism,” says the TZoro IBC chief executive.

The company is an investment, brokering and consulting firm that raises funds for cycling, among other projects.

Mdwaba bemoans the lack of financial sponsorship for the team he co-owns with Dean Edwards and Roberto Gnudi. Their partnership is just more than a year old.

Edwards is Team Abantu’s principal and coach while Gnudi owns Panda Sportswear, a company that kits out the team. Edwards is also part of the coaching staff at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games

“We have spent about R3?million between the three of us in the last 15 months. I spent about R1.5?million of my personal cash,” says Mdwaba.

He points out that the company names which appear on the team’s kit are a value-in-kind contribution. They include suppliers such as a car hire company, an airline, a hotel and a sportswear and accessory company.

“Corporate South Africa still struggles to understand the return on investment from professional cycling. I want to transform the way cycling is viewed as an expensive and inaccessible sport. It also represents black inspiration?–?if you look at our team, we have more black riders than any other team. An average bike costs between R15?000 and R40?000 and a high-end model sets you back R115?000 to R150?000. We hear our competitors’ annual budget is between R6?million and R12?million.

“We need this kind of money to pay salaries and sign more riders. We need 10 or more of them.”

Team Abantu has eight elite riders and four of them?–?Oupa Maluleke, Morné van Niekerk, Nolan Hoffman and Kellan Gouveris?–?are part of Team SA’s Commonwealth Games cycling squad.

Mdwaba says most of his riders have come through Abantu’s development wing, Velokhaya.

The academy launched the careers of Maluleke and Van Niekerk, who were only promoted to the elite squad this year.

“We won 80% of our races in the past year. We have a clean image [in terms of doping status] but 15 months later, we still don’t have any sponsorship. It is my task to change this,” says Mdwaba.

In the absence of a financial backer, Team Abantu has started a crowdfunding model, a platform on its website, where the public can donate cash to the team.

Getting to know Mthunzi Mdwaba

»He was born in Coville, Herschel, in the Eastern Cape and has three children

»Last month, Mdwaba was elected Africa’s ­vice-president of the International Organisation of ­Employers, a Geneva, Switzerland, body that represents the interests of employers in international social and labour policy matters

»He started out as an entertainment lawyer in the music industry and used to be a business ­manager for renowned local South African artists such as the late kwaito singer Lebo Mathosa and the late jazz legend Sipho Gumede

»?He holds a 25% stake in the Mzansi Cycle Tour

»In 2009, Mdwaba was named Black Business Quaterly magazine’s Businessman of the Year

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