The Great Running SwizzLE

When you pay over your entry fee to a race, do you ever wonder where your money goes? Did it go where you were led to believe it would?

The Omagh Half Marathon is one of many races that people return to year after year because runners are happy with what they get for their entry fee.

Most runners at some point of the year pay over good money to enter a race. Many people go to races as often as once a week, maybe even more in the summer. Only a small percentage will get that money back in the form of prize money. That means that for most of us it is one way traffic in terms of the movement of money.

None of us mind that when we know it is going to a genuine cause. That does not necessarily mean a registered charity, many clubs rely on events that they promote for their very existence. Mostly everyone is happy with either of these situations.

Other races are organised by event companies and no-one really minds as long as the organisers are open and transparent and make this clear. Runners then enter a different scenario and, if satisfied with the product i.e. value for money, they offer no complaint.

What annoys people is when they are led to believe their money is bound for a charity or cause when in fact it is not.

BELFAST CITY MARATHON
“The Belfast City Marathon first launched in 1982 with 3021 taking part in a marathon only event.  The marathon course started at the old Maysfield Leisure Centre and Greg Hannon was the winner in a time of two hours, 20 minutes and 25 seconds.  Sue Boreham was the first woman across the line in a time of 3 hours, 11 minutes and 26 seconds.  The event would take place on May Day Bank Holiday Monday each year.
1989 – the Team Relay event was introduced for teams of 2-5 runners, generating over £1.1M annually for local charities
1997 – the 8 Mile Walk and Fun Run events were introduced making the event the largest mass sport participatory event in Northern Ireland
2013 – the Half Marathon September event was launched” – www.belfastcitymarathon.com

Initially the Belfast City Marathon was run by a company whose directors came evenly from Belfast City Council and Athletics NI. However in recent years the BCC role seems to have reduced to such an extent that it is almost wholly ANI-controlled despite the council contributing £27,000 (was £42,000) annually as well as providing other services.

It is not difficult to see that both companies share a lot in common – officers, accountants and bankers. The fact that both companies are seen as one enterprise was confirmed after separate Freedom of Information requests were sent independently for each of the two companies. The response from John Allen was surprising in that his reply covered both companies. That may suggest in his mind they were one and indivisible. But, if so, why are accounts never presented to members of ANI? Who is entitled to attend the AGM of the Belfast City Marathon? What external scrutiny is there of the income and expenditure of the company? Are the dealings of the Belfast City Marathon open and transparent? Definitely not!

Response from John Allen to separate FoI requests to ANI and Belfast City Marathon

The assertion that the FoI requests were refused following The “comprehensive legal advice” also seems fatuous when informed legal professionals assure that any organisation in receipt of funds from the public purse are required to comply with requests for Freedom of Information. It is common sense that the public has the right to know how its monies are spent.

BCM VIRTUAL MARATHON

Earlier this year the Belfast City Marathon advertised that the 2020 race would be “virtual” in response to the regulations imposed during the ongoing pandemic.

BCM promo material: “As such a virtual event has been organised in an attempt to keep people motivated and raise some much needed funds for our official nominated charity, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.   There is an option to donate when registering and you can also donate to Cancer Focus NI via their JustGiving page”

Over 3500 people entered this at a cost of £15 each. If they wished to support the nominated charity as well a link was provided. The BCM received over £50,000 with many believing that the money was going to charity. With the event being virtual, outgoings were minimal – the tee-shirts were donated by the charity , if you wanted a race tee-shirt, you had to pay extra.

When the event was completed, BCM trumpeted that £40K had been handed over to charity. The impression taken by many was that this came from the BCM but, despite being challenged, it refused to confirm that any of this came from the entry. In the circumstances, the only conclusion to be drawn is that the £40K came from the voluntary contributions of the entrants.

In correspondence, BCM have tried to maintain this myth that they donated the money by a clever use of words. The company has also refused to make this information under a FoI request.

Hi XXXXX

Apologies for the delay but can I ask that the following information to be provided. I think the transparency will help the whole running community and offer the opportunity to present BCM in a most favourable light :

  1. How much of the £15 entry fee for the 3500 entrants (£52500) was donated to Cancer Focus NI for the 2020 Virtual race?
  2. What costs were incurred to hold a virtual race?
  3. What companies if any were used to provide the event management/consultancy and how much did this cost?
  4. How are nominated charity selected?

I look forward to a positive response to the above

The BCM has for years claimed to be raising huge monies for charity but an investigation by this website suggests the contrary. In fact, charities may have been paying BCM substantial amounts each year to garner the coveted “nominated charity” endorsement. We have seen no evidence of any BCM income ever being handed over to charity.

This is the response received to the latest request for information:

Thank you for your email and patience. Following the Board meeting I can update you on the below;

  • Over £40,000 was donated to Cancer Focus NI through the Virtual Event which was staged in May/June. The charity were overwhelmed with the support at a very uncertain time for everyone. Press release attached.
  • The running costs included purchase of medals and t-shirts, design, advertising and promotional costs, office and management costs and technical costs including health and safety plans etc
  • Like any of our events we work with a number of external partners such as Belfast City Council, Department of Infrastructure, PSNI, Grahams Traffic Management, the list is endless. I must add they are excellent and have provided much needed support to our organisation for the past 30 years.
  • To select a charity, there is an official application process. Interested parties contact the office (normally January time) and will complete an application form which is later assessed using a matrix and weighting system.
  • I hope the above answers any queries which you had and look forward to your participation and support in the events over the coming few years.

The above was followed up with a request (see below) for clarification of the £40K donation but no reponse was received – in fact BCM said that they would no longer engage in correspondence about the matter:

Thank you for the response and the press release. Your email doesn’t quite answer any of the specific questions I have raised so if I could list again below this time for a detailed response it would be appreciated.

The event entry system was held with the ability to contribute directly to charity as well as the separate entry fee for the event. So if we can please differentiate between actual individual donations and the separate BCM contribution from the entrance fees.

We can therefore from this understand how much was donated by BCM via the entrance fee and not via the donations. My questions then that remain are as follows

  1. How much of the £15 entry fee for the 3500 entrants (£52500) was donated to Cancer Focus NI for the 2020 Virtual race?
  2. What costs were incurred to hold the virtual race? Can you please provide listing of major cost centres for the virtual race (which if 40k was donated to nominated charity should equate to 12.5k)
  3. What companies if any were used to provide the event management/consultancy and how much did this cost? Again this should specifically be for the virtual event (where input from those listed in your email below would not have been needed for a virtual event) and again should be within the 12.5k figure.

We would be really grateful for the detail on this as it is causing a lot of apprehension/misgiving in the running community that hopefully you can put to rest quickly and ensure that the BCM retains the current participation and support levels from the running community.

WE HAVE SUGGESTED TO BCM THAT IN FACT NONE OF THE ENTRANCE FEES HAVE MADE THEIR WAY TO THE NOMINATED CHARITY WITHOUT RESPONSE. WE LEAVE YOU TO DRAW YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS