Comrades may have its date changed yet again

2014-02-28 00:00

THE date of the world-renowned Comrades Marathon may change yet again, this time at the prompting of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB), with the backing of the Msunduzi council.

The council’s executive committee (Exco) decided at its meeting yesterday to back the initiative after receiving a letter from PCB CEO Melanie Veness. Writing on behalf of the local business community, in particular the accommodation and hospitality sector, Veness said it was recently discussed that several of the city’s major events — including the Comrades, the Royal Show and Art in the Park — all take place around the same time.

The Comrades race currently takes place on June 1, the Royal Show from May 23 to June 1, and Art in the Park from May 21 to 25.

Veness said the situation had created “what can only be described as an accommodation crisis in the city”.

“Pietermaritzburg simply cannot accommodate Comrades runners as well as Royal Show exhibitors and attendees, especially when two of our hotels are essentially booked out in advance by the racing fraternity, because our signature horse-racing event, the Golden Horse Sprint, also takes place at this time of the year [May 24],” she said.

Veness added that visitors’ frustration at not getting accommodation impacted negatively on the city’s image. There was also benefit previously when the Comrades was not held concurrently with the Royal Show, and many needy runners were accommodated in the showground halls.

“Having these events at the same time also means, of course, that city services like traffic policing are put under extreme pressure, as are SAPS, and we cannot do any of the events justice,” said Veness.

She said it therefore did not make sense to have all the major events at the same time.

“The thing that most worries the chamber, of course, is that Pietermaritzburg is now losing most of the economic spin-offs from the Comrades Marathon. If people don’t stay in the city, they don’t spend in the city either.”

Veness said the request was not being made lightly as she was fully aware of the logistical implications involved in changing the marathon’s date. This was especially as it had been changed twice before, from May 31 to June 16, and then to June 1.

Veness said thought was given to changing the Royal Show’s dates, but this was an event that had taken place at the same time for the last 162 years. Moving the dates would also be challenging because of the duration of the show.

Comrades Marathon Association board chairperson Max Chitja said he was certain the board would not be averse to listening to the proposal put forward by the PCB and the city.

“If there are challenges, we must be mindful, but we also have to be certain that we do not inconvenience our runners,” he said.

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