Comrades in corona storm

2020-03-18 14:15

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In the country’s first major controversy related to the national state of disaster, the government yesterday blasted the Pietermaritzburg-based Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) for not postponing the race.

The Ministry of Sport, under Nathi Mthethwa, said it was “irresponsible” of the CMA to say that the Comrades Marathon would go ahead on June 14, when there was a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people.

But CMA chairperson Cheryl Winn said there seemed to be a misunderstanding.

“With the utmost respect, there would appear to be a misunderstanding perhaps related to misleading media reports and not to the Comrades Marathon media statement, which reflects CMA’s total conformity to the 30-day measures announced as per the president’s address on Sunday evening, as well as being in alignment with ASA’s statement on Monday of a 30-day postponement of all athletics events, whereafter on April 15, according to ASA, there will be a review on the way forward and a decision on all postponed events,” she told The Witness on Tuesday evening.

“As the 2020 Comrades Marathon does not fall within the 30-day period and is in fact ... 88 days away, the CMA board took the decision that with nearly three months to go to #Comrades 2020 it would be premature to postpone this year’s Comrades Marathon.

“Our statement went on to say that ‘CMA will be guided by government, as well as ASA and KZNA and monitor and review the situation by April 17’.

“There is no contradiction here and CMA as a responsible corporate citizen will abide by all government directives under the guidance of Athletics South Africa in the best interests of our runners, stakeholders and fellow South Africans.”

The decision not to postpone in the hope that the crisis will be over by raceday was earlier accepted by some running personalities, but criticised on social media, and then by the Sport Department.

CMA have received more than 27 000 entries for this year’s marathon, with more than 1 300 from abroad. The Comrades contributes more than R500 million to the regional economy annually.

The organisation said that if it became necessary to postpone the race after their April 17 meeting, the new date would be set in consultation with KZN Athletics and the managements of the race’s starting and finishing points.

Three-time Comrades champion Bongmusa Mthembu’s coach, Xolani Mabhida, told The Witness that the star runner was happy with the CMA’s actions, but suspected that the number of foreigners on the starting line would drop. “Most athletes with be happy with the decision.

“It means their training will go on as normal, although there is a slight change because the Two Oceans Marathon has been called off,” he said.

While some said on Twitter that the CMA appeared to be in a state of denial, well-known commentator and athletics coach Norrie Williamson told The Witness that the CMA had made a practical decision.

“If you read the Comrades statement, there is no talk of cancellation, only a possible postponement. They have done the right thing and if we all play our part, we can become one of the first nations to contain the virus because our government stepped in so early with regards to doing something about it,” he said.

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