The Hong Kong Marathon, the popular running event founded in 1997, will take place on January 25 this year.
Standard Chartered, the title sponsor through the years, is doing all it can to promote the event. The publicity mileage is enormous, but some observers are now wondering if it might be better for the bank to rethink its sponsorship given the challenges it is facing in its business and, more importantly, problems associated with the race itself.
Earlier this month, StanChart announced plans to cut costs by pulling out of its global equities business and axing 4,000 jobs. The lender’s share price has fallen 9.5 percent since the start of the year. The bank has enough problems on hand and certainly doesn’t need any negative publicity from the race sponsorship.
Now, what’s wrong with the marathon?
Apparently, the organizer Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association (HKAAA) has been lambasted for doing a poor job and not giving enough support to the runners.
Despite having plenty of resources at its disposal, the association has failed to organize a marathon that matches the international standard in terms of the arrangement and atmosphere.
Some runners have noted that the organizer actually prevented supporters and audiences from lining up along the route to cheer the athletes. This is in contrast to what happens at other world class city marathons such as the ones in Boston, Taipei, Osaka and Tokyo.
The association is also blasted for being inconsiderate.
Marathon is a sport that requires participants to have a lot of strength and stamina. Over the years, although the HKAAA has provided bananas for the runners to help them replenish their energy quickly, many people have said that they couldn’t get their hands on the fruit. And even if they did, the bananas were often too raw to eat.
Previously, some members of the public would give out items such as chocolate, cakes and fruits to the runners to show their support.
But the organizer stood in their way last year, banning runners from taking food from the public, warning them that they would be disqualified if they did so. Thus, tired and hungry runners can now only run past their supporters and food.
By contrast, in places like Tokyo, Taipei and Paris, it is a welcome practice to give out food and show support to the athletes.
Also featured in the event are a number of wheelchair races. Last year, some were not allowed to finish the event because they were not able to meet the time limit that some athletes described as being too stringent for amateurs.
Although the association refuses to reveal its books, it is clearly profitable, going by the simple math. So, the subpar performance is even more unacceptable.
There are 73,000 applicants in total this year, and the application fee is HK$300 per person. That means the application fee income alone totals HK$21.9 million (US$2.82 million).
Then there is money from Standard Chartered, and other sponsors including sportswear brand Xtep, personal care products retailer Watsons and Western Harbor Tunnel.
On the expense side, there is really not much. There are sponsors for the T-shirts and bottled water; and most of the helpers for the event are volunteers.
More recently, the event has been criticized for being reduced to a political show.
On Sunday, police commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung will fire the starting-gun for the race.
The invitation to Tsang is being seen by some as the organizer’s show of support to the police force.
As Tsang allowed the firing of tear gas on pro-democracy activists on Sept. 28 last year, and his officers also resorted to other violent tactics to suppress the protestors, many marathon runners questioned the decision to invite the police chief to kick off the Marathon.
Some runners have set up a Facebook page, calling on fellow marathon participants to boo Tsang.
A long time marathon runner revealed on his Facebook account that many athletes now no longer come to the Hong Kong race. Instead, they are turning to other races in cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Taipei.
– Contact HKEJ at [email protected]