” Marathoners deserve better than that ” by Roger Bejjani President of the “Inter-Lebanon Road Running & Athletics Association”

“A marathon is synonymous with a 42.195K race. Talking about a marathon of 3K or 10K is heresy, and all it does is disturb the spirit of Pheidippides and arouse the criticism, if not the angry indignation of real marathoners. Like everything in Lebanon, actions become exaggerated and very quickly degenerate into misinformation and flattery! The Beirut Marathon has never counted more than 300 participants during its 8 consecutive years. The thousands of runners announced are “registered” by their companies or schools … or Parliament for the minor 10K, 5K, or 3K (the most recent) races… ” read the full article …

” Marathoners deserve better than that ” by Roger Bejjani President of the “Inter-Lebanon Road Running & Athletics Association”

Marathoners Deserve Better Than This

We must put an end to the tyranny of Public Relations

On October 31, 2010 a record number of runners gathered in the town of “Maratona”, 40 km from Athens, to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the victory of the Greeks over the invading Persians and the legendary run of Pheidippides, the Greek messenger soldier, sent to announce this victory to the assembly of the oldest human democracy before dying, exhausted by his run of 40 kilometers.

Since then, the legendary story of Pheidippides has greatly fascinated athletes in general and runners in particular. The first modern-day marathon competitions (Olympic Games in 1896 and the city of Boston in 1897) honored his run by organizing a marathon race over a distance of 40 kilometers.  At the London Olympics in 1908 the marathon distance was stretched to 42.195K, for reasons peculiar to the British royal family, and this has since become the official marathon distance.

But it was not until the late 70’s that the fascination that the marathon had on people began to take on extraordinary cultural, economic, and sporting dimensions. It was during this decade (1970s) that marathons emerged in New York, Paris, Berlin, Rotterdam and many other cities starting with a few dozen or a few hundred participants. Today there are more than 580 marathons in the world, with tens of thousands of runners at the start of each of the major marathons. The number of marathoners who crossed a 42.195K finish line in 2009 is estimated at over 1 million.

But where does the Beirut Marathon figure in this arena rich with history and in an event that commands respect and marks so many?

To start with, a marathon is synonymous with a 42.195K race. Talking about a marathon of 3K or 10K is heresy, and all it does is disturb the spirit of Pheidippides and arouse the criticism, if not the angry indignation of real marathoners. Like everything in Lebanon, actions become exaggerated and very quickly degenerate into misinformation and flattery! The Beirut Marathon has never counted more than 300 participants during its 8 consecutive years. The thousands of runners announced are “registered” by their companies or schools … or Parliament for the minor 10K, 5K, or 3K (the most recent) races. From these thousands “registered”, half do not turn up to the start of these “fun” races. Even at these “fun” races, only 400 or 500 runners actually run the limited number of miles, while the majority of those “registered” stroll around part of the course and end up either in a cafe sipping coffee or smoking hubbly bubbly, or after having cleverly used a shortcut shamelessly cross the finish line and collect an undeserved medal from the hands of the admiring organizers, without of course forgetting to disrupt the real marathoners in one of their magic marathon moments: the final sprint!

The Beirut Marathon is an extraordinary example of a travesty of sport.

Even if one ignores the amazing public relations campaign that leads some journalists to write surreal, not to say ridiculous, comparisons between the Beirut Marathon and those of Boston, Berlin, New York, it is shocking to realize that in 8 consecutive years the organizers of the Beirut Marathon have never succeeded in guaranteeing the integrity of the marathon according to the most basic standards governing the 42.195K race. Foreigners who have had the misfortune to be lured by false advertising, not only never return to Beirut to run, but take it upon themselves to inform their runner friends of the sad reality of the Beirut Marathon. The result is decreasing foreign participation over the years.

As for the Lebanese long distance runners, the majority belong to three clubs: Veterans Club, Inter-Lebanon, and the Lebanese Army. They are always present at the marathon, despite their frustrations year after year. It is hard for a runner to turn his/her back on a race around the streets of his/her capital. But in the light of the technical and organizational outcomes of the 8th edition of the Beirut Marathon, namely: the scandal of deficient electronic timing with defective chips that left out the results of more than 70 out of 250 runners, the lack of water and food stations at vital points, the lack of control mats, a narrow finish corridor congested by Sunday strollers, and finally the announcement and publication of partial and inaccurate results. The community of Lebanese marathoners has decided to intervene forcefully to either help the organizers produce a credible and serious race that respects international standards of running and especially those of the marathon, or to organize another TRUE marathon of which Lebanon and the Lebanese can be proud.

Media coverage

On November 7, 2010, fifteen thousand kilometers from Beirut, 45,000 marathoners ran across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the ING New York City Marathon. We were rocked for over 2 hours with the comments of marathoners and Olympic champions such Said Aouita and Deena Kastor who were commenting on the race and the leading runners of both sexes. Hours earlier Lebanese commentators, totally ignorant of what a marathon is, focused their cameras and microphones on the politicians who were breaking in their brand new running shoes in the… .3 K! No images of marathoners and their ordeal were shown on TV screens. Neither the start, nor the arrival, nor the comments of the winners!

The numbers tell the story!
200,000 dollars of “aid” is paid by the Ministry of Youth and Sports to the organizers of this non-sporting fair.

The sponsors, who are thrilled by the crowd phenomenon and the wild advertising, contribute to this non-athletic event with a cumulative sum estimated at 500,000 dollars in cash or in goods and services.

The “board of trustees”, comprised of generous individuals motivated by a genuine philanthropic spirit, contributes an estimated 150,000 dollars annually.
The total registration fees collected from participants is estimated at 200,000 dollars.
So, a budget totaling around 1,050,000 dollars!

This brief analysis of the figures is shocking when it is known that a budget of 300,000 dollars is more than enough to organize a true marathon worthy of the name in addition to minor races according to international standards.

It is as shocking to realize that the Ministry of Youth and Sports contributes to this non-athletic fair par excellence a sum exceeding by far the total contribution of this same ministry to all the Lebanese athletic clubs who are the real trainers of athletes and the real organizers of sporting events.

Roger Bejjani

President ” Inter-Lebanon Road Running & Athletics Club ”

Check out the original version in French at this link : http://www.rralebanon.org/content/les-marathoniens-m%C3%A9ritent-mieux-que-ca#comments