Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

Why are elite races still on hold? Covid is becoming a lazy excuse

Completely scratching races, like the Two Oceans and Comrades, because of restrictions is becoming a nasty habit.

It has been nearly a year since the domestic road running campaign was suspended, and though amateur runners are obviously frustrated, the situation is becoming dire for the nation’s elite athletes.

For South Africa’s top-tier runners with Gold Label status, there are still options in other countries (albeit limited) where elite races are being held in the absence of the amateur masses.

For those who are on the fringe of reaching top-tier status, however, the ongoing pandemic is crippling their income, and though event organisers are not responsible for the virus, they need to start taking some responsibility for their decisions.

While Athletics South Africa has been widely criticised for blocking events, apparently for health and safety reasons, the federation has now given the green light for races to resume within the 500-person limit allowed by government.

Despite this, it was announced last week that the Two Oceans ultra-marathon had been cancelled, and this week Comrades was called off.

There’s no going back for either of those events, but the rest of SA’s world-class road races – including the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, the Old Mutual Soweto Marathon, the FNB RunYourCity series and the Spar Grand Prix – seriously need to reconsider if they are planning to follow suit.

Understandably, fears of limitations in terms of field sizes have made organisers cautiously pessimistic, but while the amateur masses form the backbone of the sport, the media coverage, sale of broadcast rights and sponsorships are based predominantly around the quality of the elite races up front.

And in this aspect, the sport can resume with immediate effect.

Should they have to scale things down, nobody would blame them, but completely scratching races because of restrictions is becoming a nasty habit.

It may seem they’re attempting to toe the line and are therefore losing out by cancelling races, they’re really not taking a massive knock because they can still charge entry fees for virtual events, which require only a portion of the resources needed to hold an actual race.

And while this may be a viable alternative for amateur runners, it does nothing for the elite athletes who depend on appearance fees and prize money.

In addition, fans of the sport don’t get to watch it on TV.

Event organisers all say the same thing: they’re putting the health and safety of runners first.

This is probably true in terms of mass fields, but it doesn’t explain why they can’t hold virtual events for amateur runners and smaller live races for elite athletes.

Should they do this, everybody wins.

If they don’t do it, the country’s best athletes will continue to lose out.

Wesley Botton

Wesley Botton.

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