70,000 reasons to upgrade marathon

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 December, 2011, 12:00am


The Standard Chartered Hong Kong marathon is developing into a world-class event alongside the Rugby Sevens and the international horse races. What sets it apart is the number of people running rather than watching. Organisers raised the maximum entry for next February's event by 5,000 to 70,000, but many still missed out. In that respect the event compares with famous marathons in New York and London. But you wouldn't know it, thanks to the way it is run. Competitors in the full marathon, half marathon and 10-kilometre events will rise in the dark so that the first of them can start about 5am. At the behest of the authorities, they will be routed some of the way along lonely highways and must be off the city's streets in time for motor vehicles to take over again by 2pm.

As a result, the marathon seems disconnected from the city compared with the spectator involvement, carnival atmosphere and charity fund-raising along the routes of the New York and London events. Here it tends to be confined to the start and finish. Many residents do not even notice the event.

There is a case for more flexibility.The organisers are worried that road closures lasting six hours will not be enough to allow some of the 13,000 competitors in the full marathon to cross the finish line. Organising committee chairman William Ko Wai-lam has called for a public consultation on whether longer closures would be acceptable. Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association chairman Kwan Kee has called for a later start because runners cannot feel good and perform well so early in the day.

The marathon is a 'Brand Hong Kong' event supported by the government and the tourism board. Last February's event raised HK$3.6 million for charity. If it is really going to match famous marathons, more people-friendly arrangements would boost public support, raise more for charity and reward competitors' enthusiasm. And it would do no harm to our claim to be a 'world-class city'.