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SOWETAN | Race great, but could be better

Runners during the 2023 Soweto Marathon in Soweto.
Runners during the 2023 Soweto Marathon in Soweto.

There were doubts about the African Bank Soweto Marathon earlier this year but it made a boisterous return this past weekend amid much fanfare.

The People’s Race duly delivered a spectacle, which ended with two South Africans, Ntsindiso Mphakathi and Irvette van Zyl, triumphing in the men’s and women’s events respectively.

But it would be amiss of us not to point out the event had some challenges. These were first witnessed on Saturday – when runners went to the FNB Stadium venue to collect race packs only to find organisers had run out of race T-shirts.

This infuriated the runners who forked out up to R400 to register for the race. They were told they would get theirT-shirts on race day but this promise was also not fulfilled. On Monday evening, the Soweto Marathon Trust sent out an email vowing they will deliver the outstanding T-shirts to affected participants within a week.

We find this absolutely amateurish, especially as runners put their trust in organisers despite known gremlins that dogged the Soweto Marathon. Earlier, a feud among marathon trustees descended into chaotic scenes when some were suspended and issued a statement claiming the event had been cancelled over a TV rights dispute.

Confusion reigned supreme, but runners took the organisers’ word and registered even as event organisers had sent mixed messages. To then fail to fulfil basic needs such as T-shirts which were paid for – is truly disappointing.

There were also complaints regarding sewage spillage on the 21km route, which presented runners with a huge challenge. Shame on the City of Joburg for making runners step onto dirty, stinking water en route to completing one of the most challenging events on the athletics calendar.

What was more heartbreaking was seeing residents of Soweto braving through the stench to caution runners, and cheering them on.

We hope that organisers will heed lessons and strive to do better next year, to ensure the Soweto Marathon reclaims its status as one of the best road-running events in the country, which was the case in the pre-Covid era, when it attracted up to 40,000 participants.

If nothing improves, most of the 20,000 runners who showed up at the weekend will have no reason to return, especially if they do not receive the T-shirts they paid for.

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