In a bold and unprecedented move, Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin recently instructed the Sports Commissioner (SC) to take the organisers of the Klang City International Marathon (KCIM) to court for not obtaining prior authorisation from the SC and thus, technically, staging the race illegally.
Furthermore, the Sports Minister is seeking to increase the penalty imposed on event companies who stage any sports or running events without the mandatory SC permit, from the current maximum penalty of RM5,000 to RM500,000.
Is this the way to make marathon events in Malaysia safer?
The background to this is the tragic case of a reckless driver ramming into a hapless runner in the wee morning hours of Dec 10.
Evelyn Ang, a running buddy of mine, was hit by a wayward car while she was running in the KCIM. She suffered serious head injuries and a broken jaw: by the grace of God, her life was saved by a successful brain surgery. At the time of writing, Evelyn is gradually recovering.
Almost immediately after the accident, many shocked runners went on social media to express their sadness for Ang and her family, as well as vent their anger on the KCIM organiser, Earth Runners.
Some participants claimed the organiser lacked proper safety measures.
These included inadequate marshalling of road traffic along the running route, insufficient water at drink stations, and the absence of information and signs on road/lane closures.
All of this, they said, exposed runners to greater risks of death or injuries. Ironically, people had picked up running as a way to lead a healthier lifestyle.
No More Cowboys
Since 2011, the running industry in Malaysia has seen a meteoric rise in the number of events to the records level today. There are runs, sometimes multiple ones, every weekend.
Lucrative profits can be made by staging these races. With lack of strict regulations and/or enforcement, and little financial/litigation risks, many companies and entrepreneurs have jumped on the bandwagon to organise their own running events.
Unfortunately, some of these organisers may be more concerned with making a quick buck than giving runners quality road races. Quality and standards can be compromised.
Of course, runners who feel shortchanged will complain a lot on social media, but with no real or effective official channel through which they can seek compensation, unscrupulous organisers usually get away scot free.
I believe it is high time that the national sports authorities put their foot down and prevent such cowboys or maverick running event organisers from further endangering the lives of the public and runners.
Organisers who deliver poor services and lower the standards of Malaysia’s running sports industry should be weeded out.
The real challenge now is to create a system that promotes quality in running events while, at the same time, gives genuine commercial event management companies enough leeway to conduct their business freely without too many restrictions and time-consuming bureaucratic red tape.
This will be a hard task, because more often than not, race organisers have purposely avoided approaching the Sports Commissioner (SC) for advice. This is because they see the SC as more of a hindrance than a service, not to mention the extra sanction fees charged by the SC.
Get Everyone Involved
With the backing of the Sports Ministry, the SC has invited all of the country’s race directors for a long-overdue roundtable talk.
I hope that the SC will take on board the views and suggestions of the race directors before proceeding with measures on how to curb illegal races and start working closer with event organisers to ensure that running events are up to standard.
I also hope that the SC will not let this opportunity pass to put in place a regulation or by-law that will make race organisers more accountable for their actions.
As an avid amateur runner who participates in events almost every weekend, I really want to see the same old problems solved to have a substantial improvement in the safety and regulations of all running events in Malaysia.
I hope that no inflated egos, vested interests and personal agendas will derail the development of Malaysia’s number one mass participation sport, running.
Malaysians are a smart bunch of people, and we have all the necessary skills and expertise to not only make road marathons safer for everyone but also, potentially, make Malaysia the best running destination in South-East Asia.
However, to reach these ultimate running goals, we need the help of all the key running industry players, namely the: Sports Ministry, Sports Commissioner, Malaysian Athletic Federations, race organisers/directors, running associations/groups, local councils and also police/medical service providers, relevant event sponsors and, of course, the runners themselves.
The weakness of Malaysians is that although we work well as individuals, when it comes to coordination and communication between different parties, we falter.
Some Humble Suggestions
So, from the point of view of an independent runner, I would like to give my humble suggestions on how all the industry players can put their differences aside and work together to make running events in Malaysia better and safer:
● Invite not only race directors to the roundtable talks but also reputable representatives of the running community, event sponsors, race registration portals, local councils and any other key industry players.
● Set up a Running Council with the SC as the chairman and appoint representatives from each of the key industry players mentioned above. Membership should be renewed annually, and nonperforming council members dismissed.
● Make the roundtable talks’ minutes of meeting available to the public (preferably online), to help everyone follow and understand the important issues.
● Any major decision should be voted on democratically by the Running Council members.
● The Running Council should meet regularly (preferably fortnightly) to discuss and take action on outstanding issues, and update the permit application list of events. Since time is money, the Running Council must utilise IT as much as possible, and every proposed action must have a date for completion.
● All running events must submit applications to the SC for consideration in advance. Only the SC has the right to waive its permit in line with pre-agreed guidelines.
● Clear guidelines on what constitutes a permissible running event, and exact information on how to apply for SC permits for such events must be made public.
● All permit fees payable and paid must be made public to ensure transparency and to prevent corruption and favouritism.
● Organisers of an event with more than 2,000 participants must appoint a race safety officer at their own expense.
● Give the SC an adequate budget to match its expected increase in workload to closely monitor thousands of running events nationwide.
● Last, but not least, all of the proposed Running Council members must take an oath to uphold high standards of running events with the utmost integrity and professionalism.
With the new year approaching, let’s all work together towards staging zero-casualty running events. If we can save one life, then all the hard work will be worth it.