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More than a sport, marathon is a way of life

By Wu Zheyu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-20 07:44

Editor's Note: Is the marathon a sport for all or just a carnival for the middle class? Do so many roads need to be closed and so many volunteers posted,which disrupt the public order, to ensure a marathon race proceeds smoothly? Two experts and a marathoner share their views on the issues with China Daily's Wu Zheyu. Excerpts follow:

Don't ignore the business potential

Yi Jiandong, director of sport industry and health management program at Peking University's National School of Development

In most marathon races in China, the local governments of the cities where they are held become the major investors in the event, ostensibly to boost their image and promote local tourism.

In many cities, the investment share of the local governments is much larger than that of the organizers. As a result, recent years have seen an increasing number of cities hosting marathons, including those without any idea, not to talk of experience, of how to provide for a large number of participants, or invite advertisers and sponsors or promote the sports goods industry.

And since a good profit model has not developed, almost 90 percent of the marathons held in China are money-losing events.

Setting the upper limit for the application fees at 200 yuan ($29) and restricting the number of runners are the other reasons why organizers and host cities lose money. It's time the sports authorities divided marathon races into two categories-commercial and nonprofit. Races organized by local sports bureaus and communities can be categorized as non-profit ventures,while those famous ones such as the Beijing Marathon should be organized as commercial competitions.

Also, since many cities invest heavily in marathons in order to boost their image, TV channels could benefit most from them. According to estimates, the fee that China Central Television charges for broadcasting a marathon is 5-8 million yuan, because the competition is very fierce as the number of days they can be telecast on is limited: 104 Saturdays and Sundays in a year. And when TV channels join the race, so to speak, advertisers will follow suit, and the TV stations, host cities and organizers can share the resultant ad revenue.

Respect local residents and know your limit

Tan Jie, publisher of Front Runner, and member of Marathon Committee of Chinese Athletic Association

Some people feel a marathon is like a carnival for the middle class. And many runners do act like upstarts, because for them, a marathon is a platform that can be used to showoff thanks partly to the cameras in their smarphones.

But why are people who may never run a long-distance race, let alone a marathon, are passing judgments on marathoners?

Maybe it's time for us runners to reflect on ourselves. We won't be welcome by everybody just because we organize marathons and promote a healthy lifestyle; in fact,we can be ridiculed by some.

If we want to promote this healthy lifestyle and attract more people to the sport,we have to ensure that every runner is self-disciplined, avoid causing major disruptions in the public order, follow the principle of fair competition and obey the rules.

Marathons are about running to stay fit. They are also about competitions and inspiring runners to challenge themselves. But the news of the sudden deaths of some runners in recent times should be a warning to potential participants-that they should know the limits of their body and train for a certain period of time before taking part in a marathon.

Running according to your endurance is away of respecting yourself.

Events need to be people-friendly

Wang Xueli, director of the Center for Development of Sports Industry, Tsinghua University

Last year, at least 328 marathons were held in China in which 2.8 million runners participated. This suggests marathon is destined to be a popular sport.

However, there is need to clearly define the relationship among runners, local authorities and residents. Some cities are over-reacting by claiming that marathons cause major disruptions in the public order.

But the closure of roads and posting of thousands of volunteers along the course of a marathon do cause major inconvenience to residents. Once a city,which I don't want to name, hired 30,000 volunteers (some say security guards) to man the marathon route when the total number of runners was only 20,000. Even the runners complained about the arrangement,with some saying they felt like prisoners taken out for a walk under strict security guard.

Nevertheless, runners and local residents need not be on opposite sides. In Tokyo, for example, local residents act as volunteers along the marathon route.

Local city governments in China should not randomly close roads to traffic and local residents. In fact, the Chinese Athletic Association's rules and regulations say resources beyond the standard and capacity of a host city should not be used.

Since the core technical specifications for marathons across the world are very similar, they could become homogeneous competitions. So there is need to weave local characteristics into the planning of marathons, for instance, by taking the route through local scenic, cultural or commercial spots, or subdividing a race into women's marathon or mini-marathon for parents and children.

(China Daily 05/20/2017 page5)

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