Massive cash incentives have started streaming in for Team SA’s seven athletes who brought home 10 medals from the recently concluded Olympics and Paralympics in Japan.
On Friday, car maker Toyota disbursed more than R700 000 during a ceremony to celebrate the podium finishers from the two multicoded spectacles that were staged in Tokyo between July and beginning of this month.
Paralympic double gold medal-winner Ntando Mahlangu and Olympic swimming champion Tatjana Schoenmaker were the biggest recipients, bagging R200 000 each at the event in Marlboro, Johannesburg.
Athletes who won gold medals were awarded R100 000 each, while silver and bronze medallists received R50 000 and R25 000 each, respectively. Mahlangu and Schoenmaker stand to earn more cash rewards in the coming week when Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa dishes out nearly R5 million to the medallists and their coaches on Friday.
The department, together with the National Lotteries Commission and Sascoc, will pay R450 000 to each gold medal winner and R120 000 to the winner’s coach, while silver medallists will earn R220 000 and their coaches get R70 000 each.
The bronze medallists will receive R100 000, and R30 000 will go to their respective coaches.
In addition, record-breakers will get a R180 000 bonus, but this incentive is strictly for athletes and not their coaches.
In total, Mahlangu’s double gold will get the 19-year-old slightly more than R1 million, and Schoenmaker will get R850 000 for her gold and silver in the 200m and 100m breaststroke events.
This includes the bonus for her world-record time of 2:18.95 in the 200m breaststroke final.
On Thursday, the 24-year-old received R600 000 from Atterbury and Ultimate Sports Nutrition following a crowdfunding project that raised R1 million for her and fellow Olympic medallist surfer Bianca Buitendag, who received R200 000 at the same handover event in Pretoria.
Last month, Buitendag was honoured in her home town of George in the Western Cape by seafood manufacturer Sea Harvest, which gave the star surfer R50 000.
She and Schoenmaker accounted for Team SA’s only medals from the Olympics, despite 179 Team SA athletes participating in the Games in 19 sporting codes. Mahlangu contributed two gold gongs for the Paralympic team’s total haul of seven medals, made up of four golds, a silver and two bronzes.
Although the Tokyo heroes downplayed their windfall, the cash incentives arrive at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has deprived athletes of their livelihoods due to limited or no opportunities to compete for prize money.
Mahlangu said he appreciated the incentives and vowed to remain on the straight and narrow, despite his iconic status as the newest face of the Paralympic movement.
"We give them opportunities not only in sports, but life in general – and this includes rehabilitation,” Mahlangu told City Press.The sprinter from Tweefontein in KwaMhlanga, Mpumalanga, who had both his legs amputated at the knee, won the long jump with a world record leap of 7.17m before he completed his campaign with another gold in the 200m in the T61 class.
“It’s a huge honour to be part of the Paralympic movement. I have always wanted to change the Paralympics, not only in South Africa but also in Africa. Unfortunately, we are not that well developed on the continent, in South Africa also. We’d love to create more opportunities because I believe we really have something special in our country and on the continent.”
Schoenmaker also said she would use her champion status “to make a difference in someone’s life”.
"I am very blessed that I have parents who were able to get me where I am, but someone might not have the financial background, and to give them that basic skill of swimming would be a privilege.”
It is interesting that Paralympic sprinter Mpumelelo Mhlongo will also get a good buck despite not winning a medal. He finished fifth in the 200m T44 class final, but his time of 22.81 seconds set a new record in his specialist category in the T64 and he will get R180 000.