This spring, for the 36th time, the streets of the Serbian capital will be occupied by a seemingly endless stream of runners. Thanks to excellent organisational results, this 23rd April is expected to see the Belgrade Marathon achieve a record-breaking five-digit number of competitors, while organisers also hope that many other records will be broken
Our aim is to surpass the marathon in Ljubljana in two or three years, and to be among the top five marathons in Europe, in terms of quality of organisation, within five years. I’m also certain that we can achieve this, with the reorganisation of the company and our team of young and energetic people – promises Belgrade Marathon Director Darko Habuš in this interview for CorD Magazine.
You will soon mark the 10th anniversary of your inclusion in the organisation of the Belgrade Marathon. Which of the many challenges you’ve faced and achievements you’ve made would you single out?
I joined the Belgrade Marathon in 2014, based on the recommendation of Dr Branko Bošković Ph.D., whose associate I was at the Faculty of Sports. He supported my idea to develop a relay race, which has so far been completed successfully by several thousand participants, and after eight years I received the opportunity to lead the Belgrade Marathon from the most responsible position. Although I’ve been part of the enterprise for almost a decade, being the director of the biggest mass sporting event in my country is a major challenge. It is also an honour and a privilege. I’ve spent my whole life in sports and I do what I do now wholeheartedly.
You had a wonderful starting point, which meant it was natural to continue improving and upgrading the Belgrade Marathon.
The first thing I set as a goal was to revitalise institutional cooperation, and thanks to that we can today boast of having as our partners the “holy trinity”: the Ministry of Youth and Sports; the City of Belgrade, which has declared us an event of special importance; and the Athletics Federation of Serbia, with which we are working on the development of medium and other tracks. The result of our collaboration with the Athletics Federation is the instituting of a national marathon championship, which will be held under the framework of the 36th Belgrade Marathon and the European Athletics Congress [to be held in Belgrade from 21st to 23rd April, thus coinciding with the staging of the marathon].
We also received the status of a “World Athletics Label Road Race”, which means that World Athletics has once again accredited us and returned us to its calendars. This is great recognition for the new team of the Belgrade Marathon and its high-quality work on improving conditions for marathon runners. This provides all elite runners who come to Belgrade with an additional sense of security that they will be paid and that they can expect a certain level of organisational quality.
What are the essential requirements for a good marathon?
This year the focus will once again be on ensuring the satisfaction and safety of runners. We have prepared a better and higher quality participation package, better prize money, qualifications for domestic participants as well, a simple registration process and payment online using payment cards, the Get Pica service for photos from the marathon, NFC tags for quickly registering comments etc. All partners of the Belgrade Marathon share the same values. Satisfying the runners is in first place for us, and everything we can do to raise the quality of the event and their level of satisfaction is an imperative for all of us.
The Belgrade course is demanding, hilly, but considering that we expect around twenty elite competitors from Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Morocco, who have personal best times of under 2:10, which is the record of our course and the national marathon championship, we can expect records to be broken, provided the weather permits.
Was your expectation from last year – that you would record five-figure participant numbers this year – a realistic expectation?
With six weeks to go until the marathon, we have already exceeded registrations of the number of participants in last year’s marathon, which is a sure sign that we are closing in on breaking the record and reaching five-figure participation numbers. With this in mind, I would like to announce the three-day Running EXPO Belgrade marathon – “It’s running time”, which will take place on 20th, 21st and 22nd April in Hall 5 of the Belgrade Fair, as an integral part of the event, based on the model of the world’s biggest marathons.
The Running EXPO Belgrade Marathon represents the first contact that runners have with the event and the place where they can collect their starter packages, while we are organising a “Pasta Party” to be held the day before the marathon. We believe that the EXPO will be visited over the course of the three days by more than 20,000 visitors, who will be able – through panel discussions and public training sessions – to familiarise themselves with trends in the fields of sports psychology and nutrition.
Your goal is for the Belgrade Marathon to become the region’s best and most attended marathon. Does Belgrade have the potential to achieve that?
Serbia and Belgrade deserve the Belgrade Marathon to be among the best in Europe, because we are an incredibly talented sporting nation.
Our mission is to show the world the most beautiful postcard of our capital city from the streets of Belgrade on 23rd April
We can offer a lot – in terms of high-quality organisation, a good atmosphere and enjoyable socialising – and can present Serbia and Belgrade in the best possible way. The National Tourism Organisation of Serbia has recognised this and awarded us the Tourist Flower Award for event of the year.
How important is to you to promote physical activity and environmental protection, and to provide support to people with disabilities?
The Belgrade Marathon places great emphasis on promoting physical activity, because that has a positive impact on physical and mental health, and quality of life, which contributes comprehensively to improving the state of public health.
CSR and responsible business conduct have been part of our business policy for years, in terms of environmental protection, promoting and implementing humanitarian campaigns, promoting the providing of assistance and donations to individuals or groups in need. We cooperate with numerous organisations on this front, such as the Special Olympics Serbia team, the Belgrade Sports Association of Persons with Disabilities, UNHR, UNICEF, NURDOR and the Novak Đoković Foundation, but also media companies. And among them is also CorD Magazine, which selflessly promotes this topic of great importance. For me, the humanitarian aspect of the 36th Belgrade Marathon’s Fun Run will be very important.
We organise three CSR projects throughout the year: New Year Marathon Magic, which takes place every January, while in the days after the marathon we implement the project “Heroes of the Belgrade Marathon”, under the scope of which we reward those who exerted superhuman effort to complete the race and those who helped them to do so. The third project, “Marathon Forest”, was created with the idea of raising awareness of the importance of protecting and improving the natural environment, thanks to which the number of trees in the city is growing. We this year planted 36 spruce trees, so our forest now has 71 trees.
You and your colleagues devote every working day in the year to organising the marathon. This is both a job and a way of life, but is it also a mission?
For all of us who comprise the team of the Belgrade Marathon, the marathon represents a lifestyle. The team has great energy; we spend a year preparing until we’re finally ready for the spectacle! Investing in a new team of people, a good division by sector, a team for elite competitors, the knowhow that we’ve gleaned from the world’s top marathons over the course of the past year – all of this has led us to an excellent result. We aspire to become the number one marathon in the region, and that requires lots of work. With this team, I’m certain of success! Our mission is to show the world the most beautiful postcard of our capital city from the streets of Belgrade on 23rd April.