Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 134, October 2020 Issue 134, October 2020 | Page 27

of plastic sachets is not ideal , but it is seen as the cheapest and most practical for now . However , COVID considerations that the organisation of refreshment and energy supplies needs to be totally reviewed , as does the means of waste disposal , which is now a medical concern as well as an environmental one .
As they say , necessity frequently becomes the driver of innovation , and already some concepts have been evolved that could be game-changers in this worldwide problem , but by giving specific guidelines on how to use the sachets , ASA has left little room for alternative options . It would have been better for regulations to have stated the objectives and intents , and then allowed organisers to come up with solutions . This could then see new thinking taking the sport forward .
Educate , Inform and Implement
The obligations of COVID regulations differ considerably to those of most other regulations , such as the Safety in Sport Act . Since 2010 , organisers have had to abide by this act , including submitting plans showing how a risk assessment has been done and what steps have been taken to minimise the risks . Once the authorities agree , the responsibility is to implement , monitor and correct during the event , but importantly , participants need not be informed of these implementations .
COVID is different , in that each crew member , each official and each runner has to be educated and informed , by and at each event , on the COVID virus , the risks , the steps being implementation , and why . Furthermore , the organiser must monitor and correct any omissions or contraventions .
There can be no leniency on achieving the requirements by participants : It ’ s simple , abide by the process , or don ’ t participate . If you don ’ t complete the screening , or you show a high temperature , you can ’ t work or participate . These are clearly defined and unambiguously applied rules . And they need to understand that failure of implementation can cause not only instant closure of that particular event , but could also result in changes to the regulations that will close down or overly restrict the sport for others .
That said , because each race is unique , it is more important that regulations provide standards for what has to be achieved , rather than prescribed means and processes by which they are to be achieved . Leaving the options open on how to meet the required standards creates an environment requiring new thinking and innovation … and such a review of what we have long considered as normal practice , has the potential to take the sport forward , versus just doing things the way they have been done for a decade or longer .
When is Too Late ?
Unlike track and field meets , road races are not events simply put together in a short time . There is greater local authority liaison needed , and permissions to be obtained , then greater promotion , entry issues and logistics to be considered . Good club organisers will therefore plan on at least four to six months for build-up , and sponsors need to be tied up a year in advance .
However , in contrast to those independent , otherwise aligned trail organisers , not one club race organiser hoping to host a race beyond 10km can even commit to a sponsor right now that their upcoming event will be held . And a sponsor ’ s return on 500 people is minimal , compared with , say , the 8000 and more that many November to April events typically attract . So why would sponsors stay with the sport ?
Although Comrades and Two Oceans dates for 2021 have at last been settled , unless a quick review of the regulations is undertaken , it is almost certain that qualifying marathons will not be required to enter the 2021 events … because the ASA decision to only review the current regulations at the end of December will knock out virtually all marathon or longer events until April , due to lack of sufficient time to organise them properly .
Furthermore , if 500 runners is a questionable number for the viability of a 10km , it ’ s a financial nightmare for a marathon . In any case , even if Comrades has a reduced capacity of 12,000 runners , it would take 24 marathons , with no runner doing more than one race , for everyone to qualify before 3 May 2021 . Keep in mind that qualifier entry fees is the bread and butter income of the provincial bodies , so not only has the ASA restrictions made it impossible for events to plan , or to be held in the early months , but they are also cutting off the lifeblood supply to their own structure . Then ask who will be buying license numbers in
January , if there is no sign of events being held until late March or April ? Never has a suicidal move been taken so easily !
It ’ s in Our Hands
President Cyril Ramaphosa took some social media heat for apparently abdicating responsibility for COVID to the nation when he said , “ It ’ s in your hands ,” as we moved down a level . He was actually correct then , and the same applies as we begin our return to road running : It ’ s in our hands as to how we go forward .
We can opt to wait and see , expecting others to make the move , but if everyone does this , there will be no events and no money coming into the sport , and the structure will collapse . We can accept the current regulations and attempt to make them work until the end of December , and hope someone will see the light , but again , races will be few , the contribution into the sport minimal , and the loss of sponsors and races high . Or we can accept that to err is human and undergo an urgent review of the regulations , to create practical standards to be achieved while maintaining the COVID intent and essentials , then get active in resolving the unique challenges and opportunities of each event . We can collaborate , innovate and implement , giving space to each person ’ s strength and specialisation to create solutions .
This is not the time for the age-old South African tradition of trying to build empires and cling on to them . The sport of running and athletics sits at a breaking point . It truly is in our hands … and one thing is certain : Inaction is not an option !
About the Author
Norrie represented Scotland and Great Britain in numerous ultra-distance events , then emigrated and represented South Africa in triathlon . He is an IAAF-accredited coach and course measurer , and travels all over the world to work on events , including the Olympics . He has authored two books ( Everyman ’ s Guide to Distance Running and Every Beginner ’ s Guide to Walking & Running ), and counts 21 Comrades medals amongst his more than 150 ultra-marathon medals . You can read more from him at www . coachnorrie . co . za .