If 10,000 ‘runners’ want to stay in bed, make sure they do so at next year’s Hong Kong Marathon

Change to registration process has had little effect on no-shows as more than 40,000 people are denied the chance to take part

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 9:28pm

In many ways the Standard Chartered Hong Marathon 2018 was a success. Thousands of runners finished their distances and thousands more cheered them on along the 42.195km route from Tsim Sha Tsui to Victoria Park.

But here’s where the marathon came up short. There should have been more runners.

According to official figures only 83.7 per cent of the 74,365 entries bothered to turn up.

Why would you bother with the training only to decide on the morning of the event that, you know what, you don’t fancy it?

Or is there something a little more sinister at work?

What if some of these people are registering for the marathon with no intention of running?

That’s not out of the question. In fact, it makes the most sense. One in five absentees is too large a proportion for fair-weather runners deciding the weather is not for them, or for people who are genuinely ill or injured from their training.

Falling in line with the system used by the London Marathon, Hong Kong organisers changed the registration process ahead of the 2017 event to a ballot rather than a first-come, first-served system. As ever, the 2017 race was oversubscribed and more than 30,000 prospective runners were left disappointed.

Fair enough, they may have thought. The ballot was fair and square and it wasn’t their year. But how would they have felt on reading there were thousands of no-shows.

A total of 12,795 runners stayed in bed for the 2016 event, but the difference since changing to a ballot has not been demonstrably positive. The most recent figures from the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association (HKAAA) were that 10,199 failed to show in 2017 and 10,696 this year. And the largest percentage of those was in the 10km.

Clearly the registration policy has had little effect. One in five seems excessively high. Imagine if one in five of your five-a-side didn’t turn up?

So what can the HKAAA do? Will they want to do anything? Do they even care? One suggestion would be to decrease the number of 10km places and give them over to the full and half marathons as those runners are more committed. This is a pattern the organisers have already followed, with 2,000 more places in this year’s marathon than the previous year.

Fairweather runners are one thing. The wind and rain on the morning of the 2016 event and the anticipated warm weather and high humidity for last Sunday will have had an effect but, again, it’s too much of a pattern to be explained by changing circumstances.

There’s a clear intention to not run and that needs to be addressed. If a runner doesn’t turn up then they should be banned from at least the next year, if not longer.

The HKAAA has their HKID numbers, so make an example of them.

The London Marathon bans runners for life if they let someone else run using their race number – something that is reportedto be happening in Hong Kong – so there is a precedent.

At least those spots are being used. It’s the others that are more irksome. The ones where the so-called runners just want their T-shirt and to put it up on Instagram before sporting it for a post-race brunch and basking in the afterglow of a race they didn’t run.

A runner’s high without breaking a sweat and all yours for the small price of HK$350 and knowing that it has come at the cost of someone actually running the race.

Maybe it is asking too much of the officials at the HKAAA to see this as the cause of their problem – it is a world they don’t understand.

How can a race that has no social media presence understand this particular problem?

How can they not make a hash of it if they don’t even have a #hkmarathon hashtag?

The marathon has shown it is out of touch with the modern runner with its no-selfie rule.

No selfie? No chance, say Hong Kong Marathon finishers as pleas from the fun police fall on deaf ears

Next year the event will continue to be capped at 74,000 and almost half as many again will be disappointed that they lost out in the ballot.

Unless something is done, as many as one in five will swerve it on race day and we will continue with the same situation. Ban the no-shows or the Hong Kong Marathon will be running on the spot.