City sinks city marathon

2019-03-07 15:56
Maritzburg City Marathon race organiser and director John Hall. PHOTO: IAN CARBUTT

Maritzburg City Marathon race organiser and director John Hall. PHOTO: IAN CARBUTT

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The city’s iconic Maritzburg City Marathon is no more.

On Monday, race organiser and director John Hall announced that this year’s race, which drew 8 000 runners, was the last.

He said he had taken the “difficult” decision to end the race after Msunduzi Municipality reneged on their sponsorship for three consecutive years. The municipality has failed to pay an estimated R870 000 in cash sponsorship from 2017.

But Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the contract was only for three years and it expired in 2017.

“Due to cost-cutting measures as recommended by Treasury on events sponsorship the municipality is still awaiting new recommendations on the new financial year,” said Mafumbatha.

The marathon, which has been held in the city for 23 years, is known to have one of the fastest qualifying routes for the Comrades, and some runners also used it to qualify for the Two Oceans in Cape Town.

A dejected Hall told The Witness on Wednesday that co-ordinating the marathon from his own pocket had become a strenuous task. Hall said the City’s default left a hole for the payment of race levy, medals, charities and he incurred a debt of R256 000 in 2017.

“We’ve had to do everything ourselves in an effort to cut costs,” he told The Witness. “My wife and I spent hours doing all the admin and entries because we could not afford to pay anyone to help. We worked up to 20-hour days from mid-January for work we could not outsource. Every cent we got went to the event,” Hall said.

While the marathon recovered in 2018, Hall said it was once again short of paying the race levy when, once more, Msunduzi defaulted on the cash sponsorship.

“In 2019 we lost Medihelp’s cash sponsorship. By frugal management, not paying race levies and many trade exchanges, we might only have to subsidise about R80 000 from AG Hall.”

He said for the past five years, every shortfall for the race has had to come out of his own pocket.

“There is no way we are going to get anything for this year when they have failed to pay us for two years … Why should they bother now.

“We built the Maritzburg Marathon on passion and a lot of support.”

He said one needed cash for T-shirts, medals, toilets, safety and security, timing and race numbers, “... and entry fees don’t cover that, especially, when one must pay race levies and bank charges before the fees begin to be allocated to the race”.

He said the management of traffic during the race had also become a challenge with motorists’ disregard for the rules of the sport.

“The attitude of motorists and their aggression, lack of respect for uniformed officers and disregard for the rules of the road was also frightening to watch. The way people drive and the absolute rampant disregard for athletes was shocking.”

During the race last month, Hall said motorists had disregarded uniformed officers and marshals.

“I don’t want anybody to die on my watch,” he said. “The race has gone too big for us and too big for the city.”

Comrades Marathon Association chairperson Cheryl Winn said it was devastating news for runners. “It’s such an important race and very popular with the runners. It comes at a good time of the year in terms of the training and preparation for Comrades. One would hope that even at this late stage, something will happen, and the race is able to secure funding,” Winn said.

Les Burnard of the Collegian Harriers Club agreed stopping the race was a tremendous loss for athletes.

“There will be a lot of disappointed runners because it was a very popular race,” Burnard said.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB) chief executive officer Melanie Veness said it was a big blow to the city’s tourism. “This popular and well-run event, carrying our city’s name, has for many years drawn athletes from far and wide. Tourism is a powerful driver of the economy, because of the tourism spending multiplier effect,” said Veness.

She said the marathon had become a valued fixture on their calendar of events and “the economy will certainly miss the annual economic injection”.

“Accommodation establishments, restaurants and retailers will miss out, and so will the suppliers whose sustainability is dependent on such events.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  city marathon

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