FORMER senior schools’ and senior men’s 800m champion Michael Toll could hardly believe it when in the new era of “unity sport” he was once again faced with the challenge of finding sponsorship to maintain his interest and participation in athletics.
Toll, like most athletes during the sports isolation years, battled to find sponsorship to keep up with the modern-day training shoes, nutrition, gym training and all the rest of the requirements of a competitive athlete.
During the isolation years under the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union (WPSSSU) and the Western Province Amateur Athletic Union (WPAAU), he participated in a pair of spikes for sprinters loaned to him by George Montanus, a Silvertown neighbour (a township in Cape Town) and Western Province sprint champion in 1972 and 1973.
Training in Heideveld
Possessions were meagre and having grown up in Heideveld, facilities were non-existent. He trained mostly on the narrow concrete streets of Heideveld and the sandy field of Heideveld High School. Track work was out of the question at the Vygieskraal Stadium as the venue was out of bounds for school athletes, and the grass track at Athlone stadium was the sole preserve of the inter-schools athletics meetings.
Toll owned his first pair of spikes when his school had bought 20 pairs. He was given a pair of spikes for his brilliant performances at the E-Section inter-schools meeting and the champion of champions in 1983.
He battled to make ends meet as an athlete in the sub-economic area of Heideveld and as an athlete under the South African Amateur Athletics Board, an affiliate of the South African Council on Sport (Sacos). But his hardship as an athlete did not stop under Sacos. In the Sacos-era most of the companies sponsored athletics under the South African Amateur Athletics Union (SAAAU), the white body supported by the government of the day – the ruling National Party from 1948-1994.
Toll, 53, returned to athletics as a Master’s athlete, only to discover that he would have to fund himself for every World Master’s Championship. The World Masters will be held in New Zealand next month (April).
He has won several medals at Western Province and SA level in the Masters’ category in first the 800m and recently the 100m and 200m.
But he and a fellow team mate and friend Tobias Philander are constantly having difficulty in finding sponsorship.
“We have applied and gone in person to a number of big companies, including insurance companies, but they choose to sponsor the former model C-schools,” says Toll.
R60 000 for trip
He says government sports departments are also not playing their community role in assisting the former disadvantaged athletes who are now competing at Master’s level internationally.
Instead, they have to rely on individual donors and make up the balance themselves which could easily amount to R60 000 per athlete.
Shaheeda Majiet, a former sprint champion who competes as a softball player at Masters’ level says her trip to New Zealand this year would cost R60 000, including spending money.
Internationally though, all Masters’ athletes are self-funding. But athletes in other countries are able to find businesses to fund their trips.
Lack of sponsorship
Majiet agrees that getting sponsorships from businesses here is extremely difficult.
“The plane ticket costs R36 000, including the visa, accommodation (for two weeks) and registration. This does not factor in day to day spending on food,” she says.
With a weak rand, Masters’ athletes in South Africa would find it increasingly difficult to fund their trips to New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere.
Toll is disappointed by the lack of sponsorship.
“Under apartheid officials had to battle to find sponsorships just to run an athletics meeting or a road race. Only a handful of athletes got assistance from businesses in their local community. To struggle all over again is deeply disappointing,” says Toll.
Under difficult circumstances in the 1980s, Toll built up a reputation as one of the top 800m athletes in the WPAAU. As the youngster in the pack, he had to compete against seven times SAAAB 800m champion Jantjie Marthinus, Freddie Damon, Edwin Roems, Hermanus Williams, Mark Jacobs, Harold Adams, Desmond Zibi and Tobias Philander.
Champion of champions
At school level he beat everybody on show at the champion of champions, and in 1984, he beat the 1983 SAAAB junior men’s 800m champion Emeraan Ishmail.
Toll discovered after the South African Senior Schools Sports Association (SASSSA) track and field meeting at the Dal Josafat Stadium in 1983 that there were more athletics meetings.
“It was only after the SASSSA tournament at Dal Josafat Stadium in Paarl that I found out there were more athletic meetings. I entered for the 800m race at the Vygieskraal Stadium. I did not expect to win that race as I was running against seasoned athletes like Emeraan Ishmail. That was my first club 800m race which I won. I then joined the Spartans Amateur Athletic Club of which he was a member,” recalls Toll.
Toll was good enough to make the WPAAU senior team as a first-time junior in 1984 – in fact, he was the only junior athlete who came up to senior level in 1984. He had seen the legendary Bernard Adams for the first time at the Vygieskraal Stadium, and later in the season he was honoured and privileged to hand over the baton to Adams in the senior men’s 4X400m relay at the South African Amateur Athletics Board’s Track and Field at the Vygieskraal Stadium.
“I was always fascinated by him. He was a tall and big athlete who could comfortably sprint and do the longer sprint in the 400m. For a champion field athlete [discus and shotput], his achievements on the track were something to admire,” says Toll of Adams who passed on in July 2015.
Tough at club level
Toll was a regular in the WPAAU track team. He also featured in the top three of the popular Elsie’s River Mile in Halt Road.
Having had to compete against the big guns in middle distance racing since day one as a member of the Spartans Amateur Athletics Club, Toll found club athletics extremely tough.
“The schools’ athletics were concentrated as you had to perform over two meetings (the sectional meeting and the Champion of Champions) for selection to the WPSSSU team whereas club athletics was tougher as the top guys always pitched up for competition from October to March/April. You had to perform consistently during this period and you had to run a qualifying time to make the team. School athletics was exciting as you had the entire school present at these meetings. It was very well supported because it was almost compulsory for every pupil to attend the inter-schools,” he says.
Toll says that without the consistent support of head coach Willie Davids he would not have made it at senior level.
“Willie Davids was the coach [of Spartans] who played a huge role in my athletics career. He was always there to help and guide me. Willie would also always assist with transport by getting us to training venues [runs on the mountain] and competitions,” says Toll.
At school level Toll is grateful for his Physical Education teachers “Mr Aubrey Jaftha and Ms Kathy Davids who encouraged me to pursue my goal”.
Toll had a long career as a club athlete spanning 10 years culminating in the SAAAB senior men’s 800m title in 1989. He also won the title at the fifth SAAAB Prestige meeting in Worcester.
For now, Toll hopes his fortunes would change at Masters’ level. Ching!