Manyonga’s no-show could end in rights spat

Luvo Manyonga (AP)
Luvo Manyonga (AP)

Johannesburg - The disappointment of world long jump champion Luvo Manyonga’s no-show at the final Liquid Telecom Athletix Grand Prix Series competition this week could still be compounded by the organisers being embroiled in an image rights infringement claim by the athlete’s representatives.

Manyonga, who won silver at the Rio Olympics and a gold medal at the world championships in London last year, was the only South African athlete with a high international profile who did not compete in the inaugural series’ final.

This year’s World Indoor Championships silver medallist also didn’t turn up at the Dal Josaphat Athletics Stadium in Paarl on Thursday because Stillwater Sports, Athletics SA’s (ASA’s) commercial agents for the series, couldn’t agree on an appearance fee with his agent.

The organisers still used images of Manyonga to promote the event, which allegedly convinced his parents to attend because they thought the Port Elizabeth-based athlete would compete in his hometown.

According to a source close to the spat, the use of the posters is now the subject of a legal dispute between Manyonga’s agent, former sprinter Lee-Roy Newton and Stillwater Sports because at no stage was it official that Manyonga was entered in the competition.

However, Stillwater Sports’ managing director, Michael Meyer, said he felt his company had done nothing wrong.

“There is a disagreement around that, but I can’t say how it’s going to work out. We don’t believe we’ve acted inappropriately, and ASA has some strong views on that,” he said.

“There are different views, but it seems incomprehensible that ASA can’t use the images of South African athletes in their national colours to promote their own event as the sport’s governing body.”

ASA president Aleck Skhosana wasn’t exactly exuding strong views when contacted, preferring to leave Newton and Stillwater to negotiate again before intervening only if there was no resolution to the impasse.

“It’s pretty simple, if it was a matter we were supposed to be involved in, we would have been involved,” he said.

“Let’s wait for them to negotiate, and if they can’t find a solution, we’ll step in.”

When contacted, Newton wasn’t keen on talking about the alleged image rights infringements. Rather, he was interested in talking about the reason Manyonga couldn’t participate in the first athletics competition held in his hometown since he became the world’s premier long jumper.

“Stillwater contractually couldn’t provide a fair market-related proposal to the value of Luvo’s specialist event,” he said. “This isn’t a question of money – rather it is a question of what is fair. What is fair is important because Luvo wanted to jump.”

Newton refused to be drawn into speculation that current 100m world champion Justin Gatlin was paid more than the local world champions Manyonga and Caster Semenya to compete at the Tuks Stadium competition, which is what allegedly stuck in the craw of the long jumper’s agent.

Attempts to find out how much Gatlin was paid – rumoured to be R300 000 to R500 000 – and how much his local counterparts were offered drew a blank.

Meyer described the offers made to the South African athletes as generous.

“I feel we made generous and appealing offers to our top athletes and all of them – Akani [Simbine], Anaso [Jobodwana] and Caster – competed,” he said.

“We made a huge investment. Remember that the total prize money was almost R1.5 million, but we did have constraints.

“We’d love to have had Luvo compete in Paarl – we invited him as early as November. But, in simple terms, we weren’t able to reach an agreement with his representative team. We invited all the South African athletes first because we felt it was the good thing to do. Unfortunately, in this case, we couldn’t reach an agreement.”

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