Running for equal rights

2010-04-13 00:00

In 1974, at the height of apartheid, a politically charged marathon runner participated in a Comrades Marathon unofficially, in protest at discriminatory policies that prohibited blacks and women from participating in marathons.

Bernard Fridman crossed the finish line holding a placard scribbled with the words: “Collegians Open Comrades!”

“The message was simply, saying that the Comrades Marathon must be an open race,” Fridman said.

Fridman, now 60 years old, was merely 24 when he launched his cause that coerced the Comrades Marathon’s system from exclusion into liberation.

Yesterday, 36 years later, the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) held a special ceremony at its Scottsville headquarters in honour of Fridman’s contribution to the battle for equal racial participation in the Comrades Marathons irrespective of race, religion and sex.

The retired Wits University lecturer was awarded a silver medal for a race he ran almost four decades ago, which he completed “in a time approximated at 06:30:00, which would have awarded him a silver medal”.

Since he ran unofficially, he did not receive a silver medal for his efforts,” the CMA said in a statement.

Immediately after receiving the medal, Fridman donated it to the CMA museum. Why?

“I donated it back to the CMA to be displayed to remind people that never again can anyone be barred from entering the Comrades Marathon because of their race, religion or sex,” Fridman said.

Under Fridman’s belt are medals that he earned for having obtained fourth position in a Two Oceans Marathon and fourth position in the Bergville Marathon, among others.

Fridman said he is grateful for the sound race relations that prevail in sports such as rugby, cricket, soccer and athletics. “My dream is to see the Comrades Marathon become to running, what the Tour de France is to cycling. It should be a worldwide brand,” he said.

Fridman lives in Johannesburg and is a keen cyclist, even though he has had hip-replacement surgery.

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