Help needed to make dream real

Government and members of the public will have to get onside if HK marathon is to become one of the world's biggest and best

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 March, 2013, 4:00am

Benjamin Hung Pi-cheng has a dream - that one day the Hong Kong Marathon can be among the biggest and best in the world.

The Standard Chartered Bank chief is realistic enough to concede his dream encompasses the whole shebang - all three categories of races - which successfully concluded last Sunday.

Hong Kong may never be able to match the numbers of runners taking part in the full marathon in cities like London or Boston, but what we can aspire to is making our event even more attractive, so that more people will take part in the 10-kilometre, half-marathon and marathon, and the world's best elite runners will be drawn to compete.

This is in essence Hung's dream. But to achieve this, it simply does not mean the bank increasing prize money, which is now in the region of US$250,000 - although that will always help draw top runners. What is required is more support from all sectors of Hong Kong.

The government's help is paramount. They hold all the cards, the ace being the ability to close roads for longer. Last Sunday, the Island Eastern Corridor, the course for the 10-kilometre races, had to be given back by 10am. The course for the half-marathon and marathon had to be opened to traffic by 2pm.

Organisers are begging for more road time. That will help them squeeze in more runners. This year only an additional 2,000 runners split among the three categories could be accommodated.

But while quantity is good, the focus should also be on quality. It is here that we feel the bank and the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association are lagging - they must keep pushing for a better route for the marathon.

It is no secret that the existing route is tough. Men's marathon winner Julius Maisei said it best when he pointed out that "running inside a tunnel for three kilometres is not nice". The Western Harbour Tunnel has been the target of runners' criticism for a long time. But there is no option open to the organisers with the marathon and half-marathon starting in Tsim Sha Tsui and traversing the highways and bridges to the airport before turning back to Hong Kong Island and the finish line at Victoria Park.

The route for a marathon race has been debated for as long as Standard Chartered Bank's 17-year involvement. Isn't it time the organisers looked at a route entirely on Hong Kong island? The knee-jerk reaction will be that it is impossible. But I'm sure the island has sufficient road mileage.

Hung's predecessor, Peter Sullivan, many years ago aptly described the marathon as one without "soul". Last week Hung called it a "marathon with a heart". Both descriptions hold true. Sullivan was right as it is a long hard slog for the runners who run most of the 42 kilometres on empty highways, bridges and tunnels. The route winds its way though fan-friendly streets for perhaps only two kilometres.

But Hung is also right, simply because of the many charities that benefit. Over the years the bank has raised more than HK$30 million for its charity programmes.

No soul but plenty of heart. Now it is time to put some flesh on it and make the Hong Kong Marathon one of the biggest and best in the world. While a more broadminded outlook from the government is needed, the public also must help.

This year the organisers carried an advertising campaign on buses calling the public to "drive less" on the Sunday of the race. Why "drive less"? Shouldn't the message have been "don't drive"?

Why can't people sacrifice their comforts for one day of the week? Some complain that their sleep is disturbed by runners making noise at the starting points of the race. .

Then there are complaints about road closures with Sunday drivers miffed that they cannot take their Beemers out. Come on! Can't everyone pull together for one day?

Hung has a dream and it would be great if it can be realised. We can only hope it doesn't end the way of Fantine in Les Miserables whose line "Life has killed the dream I dreamed" sums up the position the Hong Kong Marathon is in - with a heart but yet no soul.