KUALA LUMPUR: It was a marathon Aileen Ho will remember for a long time.
The Singaporean clocked 4:48.42s to finish second in the International Women’s Open Full Marathon category at the Klang City International Marathon, Selangor on Dec 10. It was her 136th run.
But the event hogged the headlines for the wrong reasons after Malaysian runners Evelyn Ang, 44, Amiruddin Hamid, 37, and Ahmad Hadafi Jus, 42 were hit by a car during the race.
Ang remains "unconscious but in stable" condition. Amiruddin and Ahmad, who suffered head and ankle injuries, have been discharged from the Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital in Klang.
A total of 487 finished the run which had seven categories. The organisers had targeted 10,000 participants, as stated on their website.
The incident opened a can of worms as the Sports Commissioner’s Office – a body under the Malaysian Youth and Sports Ministry that approves sport events in the country – revealed the organisers did not notify them of the race. In short, the race was illegal.
A police report has been lodged against the organiser Earth Runners International Group.
POLICE INVOLVED IN EVENT
Earth Runners sent the relevant applications for the run to the traffic police and to the municipal council in May, it was reported.
A spokesman of the company told the media there were 65 police officers, 40 Rela personnel, 35 road marshals and five ambulances at the event.
Traffic policemen were stationed along certain sections of the route to direct motorists.
Questions have been raised. How did the Malaysian Police and local authorities approved venues, redirected traffic and placed personnel throughout the course before checking if the event managers had the required approvals?
Many race organisers also bypass the Malaysia Athletics Federation (MAF) as they do not want to fork out sanction fees.
They claim their events are merely “fun runs” and thus do not require the approval of the Sports Commissioner or federation.
However, a Malaysian Member of Parliament pointed out many runs in the country take place without the approval of the Sports Commissioner’s Office or the involvement of the national federation.
Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming had in a statement said: “Hardly any race organisers I know ask for permission from the Office of the Sports Commissioner. The police and the local authorities also don’t require the race organisers to have permission from the Office of the Sports Commissioner.”
RUNNERS IN THE DARK
Ho, like many other Singaporean and Malaysian runners, admits she is often clueless about the legality of races in Malaysia or across the region.
“Not really,” was the 40-year-old educator’s immediate reply when asked if she checked whether or not the races she competed in Malaysia were legal.
“If the organisers advertise, I would presume it is legal. I mean, everyone would presume the same as well.”
Ho pointed out the roads in Klang were uneven, riddled with potholes and motorists drove fast despite the presence of traffic policemen. She also said stray dogs kept barking at the participants.
Following the Klang incident, approved and rejected sporting events will be listed on the Youth and Sports Ministry’s website in a bid to notify the public.
“It’s a good move (listing approved events). All this while, we have just been running and nothing has happened so not much thought was put into it.
“Of course I will be more cautious from now on,” Ho added.
NOT JUST A MALAYSIAN PROBLEM
Ho was quick to add race organisers across the region could do better.
The 2017 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM), held on December 3, received flak from participants who were unhappy with poor organisation at the baggage deposit and collection areas.
Some complained about connection issues with the event's mobile application while there were those who claimed they were not given the finisher T-shirts in their preferred size.
The organisers of SCSM addressed the concerns raised on their Facebook page, adding they "appreciate and are looking into all feedback seriously".
They were once again forced to apologise on Dec 14 after a doctor alleged lives were "endangered" due to road closures around Raffles Hospital in North Bridge Road, located near the race route.
"We've begun reviews of the race and will be making improvements to the overall experience for both runners and the wider community," SCSM organisers Ironman Asia said.
Ho said: “There are times where no one is manning water stations. There are races where you just don’t see a toilet along the route. But just because nothing bad happens, people tend to close an eye.
“Obviously we expect enhanced security but for many, they just want to run and that’s it,” she added.
MAF EAGER TO STOP UNSCRUPULOUS ORGANISERS
MAF, meanwhile, are eager to ensure event managers don’t run wild. There are road races all over the country almost every weekend, many without the approval of the Sports Commissioner’s Office.
MAF president Karim Ibrahim had during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on December 13, instructed the Selangor Amateur Athletics Association to lodge a police report on the incident.
Karim said runners also had to bear the blame for participating in illegal runs.
MAF officials met Sports Commissioner Zaiton Othman on December 18 and it was decided that the Sports Commissioner's Office will notify the authorities, including police and local councils, to only approve runs that are supported by either the state associations or the national federation and the Sports Commissioner's Office.
Karim admitted this has been a long-standing problem that has not been addressed.
“Event managers tend to make a quick buck. They use government machineries to run their events. No local council or anyone else can approve runs, only the Sports Commissioner,” said Karim.
"MAF will come out with clear guidelines that will be approved by Sports Commissioner.
Not anyone can organise a run or marathon. We are looking at licensing race managers."
CLEAR GUIDELINES PLEASE
A veteran race organiser, however, said it was unfair to generalise.
“I admit some race organisers have given all of us a bad name,” said the race organiser who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“I agree there must be clarity … there must be clear guidelines and the Sports Development Act should also be clear … should organisers of Hash runs also seek approval from the Sports Commissioner’s Office? Running, after all, is a sporting activity,” he said.
He also said the word ‘international’ should not be misused.
“Many events these days … running, cycling … all have the word ‘international’. Just because they have one participant from Singapore and another from Nigeria doesn’t mean it is an international affair. And what is the use of it being international if the timings are not recognised?”
He suggested the powers-that-be initiate a dialogue with the stakeholders on the matter.
'ARE WE RUNNING FOR FUN ... FOR SELFIES?'
Olympic Council of Malaysia assistant secretary-general Sieh Kok Chi summed it up by saying there seems to be a fine line between promoting a healthy lifestyle through the very many sporting events and regulating them.
“If you are strict, people will say you are not allowing them to participate in a healthy activity. But if there is no regulation, then people will be abused by unscrupulous individuals and their safety will be at risk," said Sieh.
“We are running every day, every week but yet we find it difficult to find runners for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
Are we running for fun ... for selfies? This is (also) something MAF should look at."