Although in this forum I am known for coaching over the past three decades I have worked as a qualified international Official, Course Measurer, Race Organiser, and Technical Consultant to events in Europe, Africa and Middle East, and prior to that competed at International championship level for Great Britain, Scotland and South Africa.

It is with this background that I wish to share some observations on the on-going (and partly unbalanced) thread regarding the Two Oceans trail races.

In fact it is a thread that is appearing in other social media as clubs are also upping their entry fees.

I am NOT involved with the organization of the Trail races or Two Oceans other than past IAAF / AIMS measurements.

I also wish to apologize for the length of the post – but it is important that we as a sport have an appreciation of the roles, risks and costs of event organization, particularly given new legislation, a poor economic climate, and a sport that is struggling for (commercial) credibility given past and present proven fraud and corruption amongst factions of the federation.

Race Organization:

Race costs are definitely a numbers game and more over there are a number of reasons that cost of races in South Africa are increasing in the current climate:

T-shirts Medals etc;

Costs of T shirts, race numbers, medals, goodie bags, printing and signage are all related to quantity. The cost of a medal may be R100 if you order 100, but drop to R50 if the order goes over 2000 and less for 35000.

I don’t know the arrangement for the trail run, but be assured if this is a special one off shirt the cost of providing 100 for those who select a shirt (in a variety of sizes) would be considerably more than ordering 800 and giving them away to all finishers (more likely to be 1000 to include VIP, Media, workers etc)

Also keep in mind the T shirt is often part of the ‘reward / commitment” to sponsors in terms of awareness and marketing (on-going as they are worn after the event) which is one reason that sponsors are involved.

Further in today’s climate sponsors cannot always afford to put in the necessary money, so instead they may provide product at their cost equivalent. This allows the Race Organisers to pass the product to the runner as part of a package that can be sold for a higher amount in order to balance the budget.

Logistic Costs:

There are other logistic costs in the race such as PA and communication systems, Marquees, refreshment points, timing, volunteers (even if only food, T shirts, transport, etc but in South African normally a fee individually or to the club) and a host more.

Safety in Sport Act:

What many South African runners are not aware of is the recent introduction of the Safety in Sport Act, which has considerable impact on logistics planning and the liabilities of all involved.

Marquees, start gantries, stages and even branded fencing require structural engineer certificates; Food requires health certificates: cabling and power supplies require Electrical compliancy; Marquees require fire extinguishers, and what if the introduction of spectators commence a fire on the mountain?, Then as Raymond points out what is someone is injured or has a heart attack how do you get them off the mountain? And if it happens one year how do you improve the system for the next year to reduce the risk.

All events in South Africa from the very basic club run in a rural area to the World Cup 2010 (which is why it was introduced) are covered by the same act and the effect of this is only becoming apparent now as municipalities start the introduction.  The 100 page document is hardly able to deal with the differences between a massive world soccer match to a 100 runner 5km event to a concert in a park, to 10 person relay up the Comrades route, but they all fall under the same ruling and have resulted in considerably more meetings, interaction with government and local authority all of which is time and documentation.

Every event requires a risk appraisal and the appointment of a safety officer.

Do not assume the act only deals with the event venue: For instance the trail race will require traffic control (spectators and runners and alternate routing for normal traffic), public announcements in papers, security against theft (covered in the act) , VIP protection (Think of how some people require Blue lights just to drive and this can be a huge aspect in SA – even although events I deal with in Middle east sees royalty drive up and run in the event with one security guard!), parking,  and disaster management.

Insurance under the Act:

The implication of falling foul of the act is being sued both as an organization and individually. The idea of club committees taking on race organization for free is about to be seriously tested – Events require R10 Million insurance for EACH incident and with the possibility of losing your house / savings / and more if someone used the full extent of the act to pursue the event organizers it is no surprise that it takes professional companies and employees to take on the risks of major events.

Typical Club events:

For example in Durban where there are no Police / traffic charges it costs around R50000 to hold a club run half marathon where the members work for free with a view to making club funds. If only 800 people turn up then a cost per runner would be over R60 and don’t expect any significant give-away for that and the top runners will have to settle for around R500 top prize.

Would you be willing to put in time and effort on that and put your house and family at risk?

Do Participants Abide by Instructions?

In weighing up this risk just remember how many runners tend to ignore or manipulate race instructions, rules or advice and how 800 runners will want to do things 800 individual ways that a race organizer has to try an predict and show that all reasonable expectations had been considered!

Protesting – A right but with Impacts:

The various posts on the site to a large degree substantiate this diversity of viewpoints and the threat of a protest or alternative event on the “public property” only adds to the Disaster Management planning.

The fact that such an event / protest has been written on Facebook and people encouraged to take part means the Trail organizers must show how they will handle such an occurrence.  This has been stated as a real possibility and must be considered as a threat to the hosting of the Two Oceans Trail race, until such time as the suggestion is either withdrawn or the organization of the protest is planned for:

This means additional security, more police, additional parking, more public presence, availability of greater medical and disaster personnel and so on.  Is the protest to be peaceful or will it (perhaps unintentionally) attract others who wish to use the occasion for alternative purposes and perhaps disrupt the run, which could then introduce a need to control violence.

Because this is on Facebook all of this now (under the act) HAS to be considered and will add to the race costs.

The responsibility of orchestrating a Protest:

But even more interesting is that because the people who have promoted the active recruitment of a protest are identifiable on Facebook they are now responsible for applying for permission to hold their protest and event as the coordinating the group. This means they must apply to the national commissioner and show how they are going to handle all the safety issues in the same way that the Trail organizers have to. This will include parking toilets hydration, PA system and so on appropriate to the number of protestors they wish to attract and is approved.

If there is an incident as a result of protest or their other run, then the people initiating this on Facebook will be called to account under the Act.  The act you see covers all walks, marches and protests which is why such orchestrated gatherings are considered events.

Of course all these logistics will cost them money and infrastructure and now with the possibility of a clash significant fencing might have to be introduced in a trail race – (there goes the idea of a run in natural surroundings).

This might be an ideal path for some of the Facebook members to follow and then lets see if they remain as outspoken about the costs of organizing an event.

Two Oceans Trail organization:

It is my understanding that the Two Oceans Trail races are organized (sub contracted in a way) to people who are in the trail running community and who organize other such trail events.   This is presumably because they have the expertise and experience to meet the expectations of trail runners and meet the professional organizational standards. Their fee will reflect the time required, their experience and knowhow, but adds to the cost per runner.

I have given a brief outline of the new act requirements – Consider for one minute the number of meetings that have to be attended to coordinate between all the authorities, and stakeholders and how long that documentation will take?

Consider the cost and time in setting up a control centre for this. The event may have 800 runners, but I would suspect that they are planning for around 4000 people and 2000 vehicles for the race hours. Bear in mind that the venue has still to accommodate the normal expectations for Easter holiday visitors, and that the roads and access were never designed with such an event in mind.

Virtually all the infrastructure will have to be brought in and taken away, and remember if something does go wrong then every senior person and agency leader faces the potential of being accountable for a very large amount of money. Not to mention any questioning or feeling of guilt resulting from the consequences of someone’s injury or life.

It is clear that people have already started work on the event otherwise they could not have changed the entry fees.  Even if there are say only two professional organisers working on the event, (plus a mass of part time helpers) between now and April (and it will be considerable overtime and weekends) then its not hard to see that the fee can quickly and justifiably reach a substantial, but hard earned figure.

Our South African Entitlement:

Further compounding the race fee structure is a South African feeling of entitlement.  This extends into many aspects, but I will consider only a couple here relevant to running:

Prize Money: The feeling is that if you win or place highly there must be substantial prize money.  Be clear that in all races each runner pays for the total prize money.  For example when Comrades entry has gone up in the past few years it is basically by the same amount as the total increase in prize money.

What has not improved over the past three decades is the standard of performance.  In fact in road running the standard of performance both in real time terms and in comparison to international performances South Africans are running slower, but expecting more money and long term contracts. This is not sustainable if race fees remain the same:

Race entry:

As with many countries, (such as rest of Africa and the Middle east and many Asian countries) we have a dual economy with some people able to afford more than others.  For this reason there have been ways and means to minimize entry fees, but it has also resulted in keeping the fee structure artificially low over the past five to ten years.  Somewhere this has to stop and unfortunately the recession, the loss of sponsors, the loss of credibility amongst the fraud and corruption and the opening of alternative sponsorship and marketing opportunities, plus the rise in costs have brought this to a head.

Runners will be interested to learn that in a past national road running series it actually cost the organizers for each additional entrant over and above a set limit. In other words the cost (which was less than the value that each runner received) of the handouts and goodie bag exceeded the extra income of the entrant.  Having a R75 entry for a 42km may have assisted accessibility, but maintained unsustainable expectations amongst runners and of course put additional pressure on club race organizers who did not have substantial sponsorship.

This is at a time when the impact of legislation is also hitting, and each of us can be sure that we will see most club event entry fees jump by 30-50% in the coming year. I foresee many races falling to the wayside, as people are no longer willing to take the risks or find it impossible to make events financially viable without major sponsorship.

I hope I have presented a well-rounded and balanced view of some of the costs and aspects affecting race fees and costs – So how do we adjudge if there is a RIP-OFF or not?

The Key is in the Surplus:

The balancing of budget is the KEY point in any organization: before calling any race a rip off or similar it is vital to consider essentially what ‘profit’ has been made.

For example there was much concern about the Comrades entry system which saw 20,000 entries and only 16,000 number pick up, but Comrades assure us that the entry accounts for only 15% of the total race costs, and that they are lucky to have just sufficient sponsors to cover the balance.

That being the case the consideration in determining if the runners are over-charged or not relates to two aspects:

Was there unnecessary expenditure?

What was the surplus / profit generated and how was it used / disposed?

The first is an area very much determined by the Event Director / or Board and a matter of opinion, unless there is direct abuse. The investment in marketing, resources and administration is usually under constant review with a view to minimizing so not really for discussion externally.

It is the surplus and profit that really determines if the runners have been ripped off by a high entry fee.

In some cases such as London marathon people willingly pay excessive amounts in the knowledge that it creates massive surplus that are used for charities and NGO’s both in and around London and worldwide.   Most do not consider this to be a rip-off, but its not uncommon to have to pay or raise R18000 to have an entry into London for a marathon. Keep in mind the entry Lottery fills in 24 or 48 hours!

I am not going to, nor am I qualified to review the surplus / profit or true costs of Two Oceans Trail, but it is sufficient to say that this information is not only known by the Two Oceans Board of Trustees, but also open under the athletics constitution to both Western Province, (and hence any member club) and Athletics South Africa under which all fixtures on the ASA calendar are held.

So now the question becomes what is the surplus used for: How much is put into a trust fund to protect the future running of the event?  In club races how much is used to assist members, (and perhaps this is where under-privileged runners benefit / can benefit when entry fees increase); then consider the charity donations – what are they and are the charities credible? What is going to provincial federations over an above the standard fees and entry percentages that all races contribute? And then consider if all of the monies are accountable.

For instance: it is (strongly) rumoured that Comrades are currently bank-rolling / loaning the KZN Athletics administration that was effectively bankrupt as a result of proven fraud and corruption.  Although the Executive have refused to instruct a full forensic audit (the limited audit of one event and 3 months development exposed over 16% of funds being fraudulently drained off), the surplus / savings from Comrades are being used to keep the Province afloat. This is in spite of the fact that over 58% of the clubs have petitioned for a Special General Meeting to have the Executive (which includes the Comrades Chairman) removed, or that the Executive has failed to respond to the meeting request.

As to whether Comrades entrants, or the licensed members of the sport consider this an ethical use of race surplus / funds is perhaps an individual decision, but it would seem the sort of situation deserving investigation by both Athletics South Africa, (particularly with the new administration now in place) and worthy of external appraisal.

Of course complicating this particular case is that two of the KZN Executive hold office on the ASA Board as chair of Road and Cross Country.  It’s always very hard to get a balanced viewpoint unless conflicts of interest are removed.

The point is if an event generates vast amounts and either the organizers are unreasonably over-compensated, (is the cricket / soccer bonus system a guideline?) or the surplus is excessive or spent in-appropriately then there is reason to say the runners were ripped off, but if the books are brought to reasonable balance then surely we are just paying for what we get and we must decide if the experience is worthy of the cost.

At 3000 words this is still the tip of the ice-berg, but perhaps a bit of clarification for those who see the entry fee, but have been unaware of the reasons, developments and implications behind organization of events. Its no longer a case of a Starter, Timer, route, a pair of shoes and a race – those days are gone, and wait a couple of years and even time trials will change their face under the Act!

2 Responses

  1. Jeez…this new act is a bitch! I was googling the net trying to find anything on why we pay licence fees. regulation is killing sport rather than enhancing it. Can you enlighten us on why we pay licence fees and where does the money go to.
    Great article.

    1. The license fee covers a multitude of needs and objectives.
      Firstly the annual license fee saves race organisers (and hence a cost passed onto runners) the cost of two race numbers each race. This is worth approximately R4 per race allowing for pins. – So in 20 races the numbers have paid for themselves
      Then the license number is linked to injury insurance which allows the runner to claim for accidental injury or third party accident whther training or racing. So for instance if you trip in a pot hole while training (or racing) then you can claim agains this insurance and if for instance you are hit by a vehicle or twist your ankle on a pothole on the finish run in while running a race.
      Then the linking of your data to the one licence number allows the analysis of a database of all runners and makes club, provincial, and national communication easy assuming the database is kept up to date.

      The money raised has been used in different ways over recent years. initially the numbers, which were sponsored by a commercial company, were given to the province and then the money raised by sale to the athletes helped to fund the provincial affairs. In the years when there were no sponsors for the national road championships a percentage of the license fee was taken back by ASA to help fund the championships. The exact costs and payments for this year are not entirely clear to me but I am sure you would agree the value for money at R85 per year is obvious.
      There are of course questions that can be asked – and should be answered by the provinces and ASA – as to what the money is used for. This is certainly a question that was raised with the previous Executive in KZNA and their lack of accountability saw the wholesale clear out. The new executive have a considerably more transparent approach and Im confident this will becomes more accessible as they grow. They have only been in office one month.
      I hope this helps – there can be no question that used as a tool correctly race numbers / Licenses have huge benefits to offer.

Leave a Reply