Mendes: Fitting to reward Comrades Marathon athletes for something almost not human

Tete Dijana celebrates after winning last year’s Comrades Marathon. Photo: SIBONELO NGCOBO Independent Newspapers

Tete Dijana celebrates after winning last year’s Comrades Marathon. Photo: SIBONELO NGCOBO Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 9, 2024


JORGE Mendes, the chief executive of mobile giant Cell C, does not run much.

He actually does not run at all – but he is about to take up the sport.

How can the man not run when he has just “gotten into bed” with arguably the world’s biggest and most addictive road running event – the Comrades Marathon.

Mendes and Cell C became the tier-one sponsor of “The Ultimate Human Race” on a four-year deal that both parties believe will take the race to another level.

“I am not a runner myself, but I have been asked to take up the challenge. So, let’s see what happens for next year,” Mendes said during an interview ahead of today’s Comrades Marathon, where Tete Dijana and Gerda Steyn will aim to defend their titles.

“We are here for the next four years, and we will be around for the 100th edition of the race – so maybe that’s the one to run.”

Speaking on their decision to get involved, Mendes said it was a no-brainer: “The values aligned very nicely. The Ultimate Human Race has been going on for a long time, and we know that along the journey it is all about perseverance, endurance, commitment, agony, pain and obviously great reward at the end, and great satisfaction for those who make it successfully.

“And if you look at the value system of Cell C, we want to be transparent, honest and operate with integrity.

“We want to do things in a simple way, and we want to partner very deeply with those that we do – and we felt that the Comrades brand is one that resonates well with ours.”

Cell C have already made an immediate impact on the race, their increasing the prize money being roundly welcomed by elite runners who have long been calling for more money to be added to the kitty.

“Prize money for elite athletes is relatively low compared to other sports, and what these athletes do is nothing short of miraculous. The time they finish in and the pace they run of about three minutes 30 seconds per kilometre on a 90km route, with uphills and downhills – it is really taxing.

“So, we thought it fitting to reward these athletes for something that is almost not human.

“What these ladies and gentlemen do is nothing short of incredible, miraculous that they can take their bodies through such pain and agony consistently over such a long period of time. The thought of it is just mind-blowing.”

Of course, Cell C are not just in it for the athletes and the sport. They are looking to benefit as well.

“We are a spirited disruptor. There’s tens of thousands of runners who run throughout the year – irrespective of ethnicity, gender or background.

“It stands to be obvious that this is something we should focus on. And we, of course, derive our profits from these communities and this is our way of giving back.

“But it is also a way of creating visibility. It is no secret that Cell C has gone through financial distress over a number of years. So, it is a way of saying we are back. It is a way of saying we are a spirited disruptor.

“Through this partnership with Comrades, our visibility will improve. We have got amazing products, amazing prices, and we are the owners of the value perception in the industry.

“We have signed great roaming deals, we have the best of the networks, great quality around the country and great network pricing.”

They signed with Comrades just recently and have not had a lot of time to do what they would really like to do for the race, but Mendes said road runners and Comrades fans can expect some great innovations in the next three years.

And one of those could well be him lacing up to run The Ultimate Human Race.