“The benefits of marathons and road races are immense, the health benefits of walking, jogging, and running are immense as they prevent and cure many illnesses and diseases especially diabetes, hypertension and even cancer,’’ Yusuf Alli, Lagos City Marathon General Manager.
The Lagos City Marathon continues in a tradition of growing Nigerian sport from a top-down approach instead of the logical bottom-up. Last year the marathon returned with fanfare and governmental support which brought on board banking giant Access Bank as title sponsors. They have been joined by 7UP and a host of other corporates this year.
Yet, if there is something we have failed to learn in Nigeria, it is that any project largely driven by the government cannot stand the test of time. Perhaps it was why it took us almost 30 years to revive the Lagos marathon. The nostalgia of watching the race as a young man must have propelled Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to re-establish the Lagos marathon.
However, I feel this should have been done in a more organic process that would see locals running their city before it is grown into an international competition where foreign elite athletes are invited to participate for prize money. Usually, marathons and road races grow out of the domestic athletic market to become major events that reach international limelight.
In Africa, we like to become international events without having laid down important groundwork. Over the last three years, several marathons have popped up on the continent – Senegal, Gabon, Lagos – all aiming for international acclaim without going through the teething stages of organic growth.
The organisers of the Lagos Marathon want it to be in the top 20 marathons in the world by the next five editions. It is an outlandish thought when the world’s biggest and best organised marathons have been taking place for more than 120 years (cue Boston 1897, Manchester 1908, Comrades (Kwazulu-Natal) 1921). It is either we are putting the cart before the horse or we do not understand the meaning of time, growth and process.
Most long surviving marathons are organised by running clubs, city athletic departments and not-for-profit sports organisations. They are groups of people and organisations that have vested interest in fitness and healthy lifestyles. They live and breathe fitness and actively encourage people to take up healthy lifestyles (see the organisation behind the New York City Marathon).
What we have seen in the Lagos Marathon as it is constructed today is a political attempt to legislate fitness into the lives of citizens through a one-day event that has no follow up process throughout the remaining 364 days of our lives. It would be great if the organisers can inform us of the number of athletic clubs that were registered after last year’s race and the number of new members that have taken to running for fitness in Lagos. One doubts that there is any attention paid to legacy projects or charity sports projects in the Lagos City Marathon marketing plan.
I would like to know how many athletic tracks have been/will be constructed around Lagos as a part of the legacy of the Lagos City Marathon in order to encourage Lagosians to take up sport. If the aim is to make citizens participate in sport but we do not have plans for reaching out to them through campaigns and provision of facilities, it means that the marketing plan needs to be better thought through.
Large sport events of this type are usually an opportunity for recruiting volunteers to manage key aspects. It was reported last year that many of the people who were used as volunteers at the race were actually political hangers-on (think Area Boys) who eventually protested that they be paid for their services (a fact which was later debunked by the organizers who said nobody was being owed). We all know that volunteers are not paid, many people use volunteer opportunities to get a foot into industries where they would like to find work. It is important that the Lagos City Marathon positions itself as an avenue for developing the capability of a corps of enthusiasts who would be useful in the sports industry and not for political associates of organizing committee members.
Why are we giving out $50,000 as appearance fees to elite runners who also stand a chance to win another $50,000 in prize money when we are in a recession? 65 elite runners were invited to attend the 2016 edition, could that be a cool $3.2million paid out in appearance fees? Wouldn’t that money have served us better if used to build modern sports facilities across public schools in Lagos? This way we would be sure of increasing participation in sport and raising potential world class athletes.
It is also important to ask for the financial statement of the 2016 Lagos City Marathon to enable us see how much was spent and how much was gotten in terms of sponsorship. The government cannot continue to spend tax payers’ money and not account for it. The Lagos City Marathon asks citizens to obey traffic rules as major roads are closed on that Saturday, at least let us know what financial returns it is making for us.
What I see is that the Lagos City Marathon as presently constituted is another political event that is meant to please the egos of the men and women in Alausa. Without a proper structure outside of the government’s coat tails, the Lagos City Marathon will not survive beyond this administration. Many laudable events from a few years ago have been discontinued. This one will also die a natural death if we do not try to place its organization in the hands of a not-for-profit foundation who will look after it to ensure it lives longer than the Ambode administration.
Still, I insist that we must build organically. A city marathon needs to have the buy-in of its citizens. It needs to be part of a sports policy that will ensure mass participation in sport in Lagos. It cannot be built from top-down as a tourism event and be expected to last. Eko for show is what we say all the time when events like this come up in our city. We show off for the world knowing that we have not really built structures to ensure for a long-lasting project. Then we go home and dream of what we achieved years ago. Perhaps in 30 years another nostalgic governor will revive it again. And repeat the same mistakes.