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Running out of time

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 10 October 2017 00:00

The 17th Colombo Marathon concluded on Sunday, with over 8,000 runners from a total of 47 countries taking part. While that number pales in comparison to more mature events, some which can boast up to 80,000 runners, for Sri Lanka being able to host an internationally recognised marathon every year– it has its own date set aside on the official global marathon calendar – is quite the coup. Or so you would think.

Going by the Government’s promotion of the event in the build-up, you would be forgiven for not even knowing there was a marathon taking place this past weekend. This is in no way the fault of the organisers, who, for the past several years, have tried in vain to convey the importance of such an event to Sri Lanka’s tourism ambitions, but it does speak volumes towards the country’s lack of coordination when it comes to tourism promotion.

An event of this magnitude in other countries is one promoted by their governments tirelessly. Events like the Singapore, Boston and London Marathon also help bring prestige to their host countries, not to mention the boost it provides industries dependent on tourism. For Sri Lanka, the promotion of an event like the Colombo Marathon should be a no-brainer

The immediate benefits are obvious. It will see an increase in inbound tourists, from both runners as well as their families, while the exposure provided for the country and its abundance of natural resources would be immense. 

On top of this, one of the key developments this year was the first ever use of a circuit within Colombo city limits. While the main marathon was held on the usual race route along the Colombo-Negombo road, the new Colombo City route was utilised for the shorter Fun Run events. 

The trial was seen as a precursor to possibly hosting the entire marathon in Colombo next year, where the city could be showcased in all its glory. According to organisers this will need to happen sooner rather than later, as the marathon is steadily growing in size each year, and the old route – where runners run alongside traffic – will soon be unable to meet the safety requirements of AIMS (Association of International Marathons and Distance Running) and IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations).

That objective may have to wait though, judging by the initial feedback for the Colombo City circuit; despite promises from government ministries and police that roads would be closed to accommodate the special route, police were intermittently seen letting traffic flow through. With over 5,000 runners running in just the fun run events, the safety of the runners was a genuine concern.

The Government recently appointed a taskforce including top private sector tourism industry leaders to spearhead policymaking to push the sector to a more sustainable footing. While they certainly have their work cut out, one area they could possibly look into in a timely manner is the matter of the Colombo Marathon and other such sporting events which can attract a global audience.

As it stands, year after year, neither the police nor government ministries are able to comprehend the gift horse staring them in the face, and it remains to be seen how much longer these opportunities can continue to go amiss.

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