Cape Town - The Dusi Canoe Marathon has lost banking giant FNB as a title sponsor, but organisers have put on a brave face and said there remains high interest in the race scheduled for next week.
FNB ended a four-year partnership with the Dusi to focus on other sports sponsorships and this means the February 27-29 race has no title sponsor.
The Dusi organising committee confirmed the bank's move on Monday and said that, while they were disappointed by it, none of their important plans had been affected too adversely.
This appears another setback for the canoeing spectacle after perennial concerns about water levels, river cleanliness and physical safety of everybody involved along the 120km route from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
However, Shane le Breton, chairperson of the Dusi organising committee, said there were many other sponsors still attached to the race, including Euro Steel and Hansa, and that his organisation were confident of attracting a new title sponsor for next year's race.
"The relationship between FNB and the Dusi has been a very positive one for the race. As sponsors, they sought to add value to the event, and fully grasped the broader context of the event and the challenges facing the ecology and communities in the valleys," he said.
"FNB's three-year contract as the title sponsor of the Dusi lapsed after the 2019 race. (There was a one-year arrangement before that contract came into being). They were proactively involved in communication with the event about their evolving marketing plans.
"After amicable discussions they indicated that they would not be taking up their right of renewal. The race does not have a title sponsor for 2020, but, fortunately, the interest in the race is really strong and indications from the high number of early-bird entries and the entries to date suggest that the support for the race will not be affected year on year.
"This is particularly encouraging after the August 13 spill which had severe effects on the river ecology. Fortunately, the paddlers have been kept constantly informed and, together with weekly results of the river testing that are posted on the website, have been able to make informed decisions about entering the race."
He said this was not the first time that the Dusi did not enjoy a title sponsorship.
"The Dusi has been run without a title sponsor many times before, and the business model allows for a fully serviced event to be run within the budget of entry fees, support sponsors and suppliers.
"The Dusi remains an iconic South African sporting event. The brand is highly recognisable and robust, and the positive way that it has weathered recent challenges bears testimony to this. We are extremely optimistic about signing a new title sponsor for 2021," he said.
"We have the backing of the KZN Department of Sport and Recreation, Euro Steel, Hansa, Truda Snax and Dirt Road Traders, together with a large number of other suppliers and partners, including Game, CHM Group, Spur Steak Ranches, SmectoGo, Gara, Umgeni Water, Life Healthcare and ER24."
Before news of this latest setback emerged, Le Breton's committee had to withdraw the iconic Burma Road portage on the final stage as an option to paddlers next week for safety reasons.
Prior to that, there was a big discussion about Taxi Rapids on the opening stage due to a high threat of "Dusi guts".
The race is the biggest canoeing event on the African continent and attracts between 900 and 1 200 paddlers each year, whose safety in and out of the water has to be guarded by Le Breton's committee.