Marathons set for race to the top

Updated: 2015-08-25 07:54

By Sun Xiaochen(China Daily)

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Opening the door

Marathons set for race to the top

A man runs with his twin sons on the 2014 Hangzhou Marathon. XU KANGPING/CHINA DAILY

The loosening of the State's grip has opened the door to a number of new players, including private companies, sporting goods manufacturers and NGOs, who want to organize or co-host marathons and related races.

To some extent, the process started in 2010, when China Olympic Road Running Co, an affiliated venture of the State-run China Sports Industry Group, began to assist the Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau in organizing China's oldest marathon, the Beijing Marathon, first run in 1981.

Meanwhile, Shanghai East Best & Lansheng Event Management Co, a service industry business, assumed responsibility for running last year's Shanghai International Marathon.

Adam Zhang, founder of Key-Solution, a sports marketing and consulting agency, said new operators face a number of challenges. "With so many players entering the field, the emphasis is on how to provide high-quality services for runners, media and sponsors, and how to make the race a special one that highlights local attractions through course design and relevant activities. These factors matter a lot to organizers who want to stay at the top of a highly competitive field," he said.

Song Hongfei, general manager of event operations at Wisdom, said organizing and managing a city marathon is physically and mentally demanding. In the three days before the starting pistol was fired at last year's Hangzhou Marathon, Song and his team had no time to sleep because they were so busy talking to local authorities by day-discussing issues such as traffic control, security, medical support and volunteer training-and erecting barriers to build the course at night.

Song's team also worked with the local urban planning department to arrange for tall plants and trees along the route to be trimmed to give TV viewers an unimpeded view. "TV broadcasting and media exposure are key to luring enough high-level participants and sponsors. Every detail counts," he said.

According to Zhang, it will take time for China's marathons to catch up with established international events in terms of media operations and the services provided for participants.

Moreover, lax organization has resulted in a number of embarrassing incidents at top events, such as the 2013 Beijing Marathon, when some of the male competitors were photographed urinating on the walls of the Palace Museum, leading to widespread criticism of the runners and complaints that the organizers had been negligent by failing to provide enough mobile sanitary facilities.