Paco Borao, President of AIMS

Belgrade Marathon Thwarted by Unsportsmanlike Conduct

The Belgrade Marathon has for over 30 years represented one of the largest sporting, social and humanitarian gems of Belgrade and Serbia. Having joined the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS) in 1990, it has long been, and remains today, as a reference and a firm supporter of this new and beautiful sport. AIMS today boasts a total of 449 members from 118 countries, including Serbia

Following more than 30 years of the excellent tradition of the Belgrade Marathon, news has emerged of the plans of the Athletics Federation of Serbia – a member of the Olympic Committee of Serbia – and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the basic function of which is the affirmation and development of athletics sports, to establish “their own” (Belgrade) Marathon this October, initially to be called the Serbian Open Marathon, then the Serbian City marathon and, finally, the Serbian Marathon series – despite the fact that they may only be races of five and ten kilometres.

In accordance with a good old tradition, this idea was immediately heralded by one major Belgrade daily newspaper which, without even delving into the essence of the situation, immediately announced that the existing Belgrade Marathon, “due to accumulated debts” and the fact that it “doesn’t possess an IAAF license”, will be removed from the calendar of athletics events after 31 years. In an effort to supplement the evidently ordered article, the newspaper also reported that the Belgrade Marathon is not a member of the IAAF and does not feature in the IAAF and EA (European Athletics) calendar.

The fact is that none of the world’s marathons are IAAF members (including members of the so-called World “Marathon Majors” – London, New York, Boston, Chicago, Berlin and Tokyo) – though they are AIMS members and even founders of that global Association. Also, the fact that the biggest European marathons, like London, Berlin and Paris, are not in EA calendar was probably deemed irrelevant.

Moreover, the article also failed to state that the Belgrade Marathon’s debts have accumulated as a result of forgetful sponsors, who persistently avoid paying the organiser significant sums of money agreed for sponsorship.

What will happen next remains to be seen. What can be concluded for now is that this year’s announced marathon of the Athletic Association of Serbia will amount to nothing, except perhaps a half-marathon event, though this is also shrouded in uncertainty.

In the meantime, CorD spoke with the President of the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS), an organisation that unites 450 members from 118 countries, including the largest ‘Golden Six’ marathons (London, Boston, New York, Tokyo, Berlin and Chicago), but also the Belgrade Marathon.

How many members does AIMS currently have?

The Association of International Marathons and Distance Races counts, at the end of June, 449 members from 118 different countries, building wide Marainternational coverage and showing today’s global interest in this sport on all continents.

None of the world’s marathons are IAAF members (including members of the so-called World “Marathon Majors” – London, New York, Boston, Chicago, Berlin and Tokyo) – though they are AIMS members and even founders of that global Association

What is the relationship between IAAF and AIMS from one side, and AIMS and national athletic associations on the other, when it comes to specific events like marathons in various cities?

Our relationship stems from the time of AIMS’ creation, back in May 1982, at its first Congress in London. Even prior to this date, the emerging world of mass marathon races was seeking some recognition from the athletics governing body, the IAAF, which considered this movement a hobby activity more than an organised sport. Nevertheless, the organisers of the 29 races that attended this first Congress introduced, as part of AIMS objectives, “to work with the International Association of Athletic Federations – IAAF on all matters relating to international road races”, and since then we have been working closely, mostly on all technical matters, such as race measurements, qualifying criteria, Measurer’s seminars etc.

On the national side, AIMS has no formal relationship with any national federation.

The Belgrade Marathon Co. has organised and continues to organise, many race events, like the Children’s Marathon, Belgrade Marathon, Belgrade Race Through History, Belgrade Half-Marathon, the Ladies Race and its latest event, the Belgrade Runway Run. These all represent extremely interesting events organised to encompass Belgrade landmark sites and dedicated to different categories of the population. Is that the right recipe for organising such events and developing the movement and, of course, for getting support from the state and cities – i.e. local communities?

The Belgrade Marathon started its activities around three decades ago and was a pioneer in the region, with the required level of reliability and responsibility in its race organisation, working closely with the City’s authorities. The number and variety of races – from elite to popular mixed competition – fusing sport and culture via the so-called Race Through History, involving children to show the benefits of natural sport and its relationship with health and wellbeing for all, as well as the inclusion of the special women’s race, shows the nature and philosophy of the working team behind the Belgrade Marathon company.

And believe me, I am perfectly aware that this has never been easy. I have personally followed the difficulties faced by this organisation – from the bombing of Belgrade in the 1990s to the abandoning of the event by some of its main sponsors, making things more than just difficult. And I am very glad to have witnessed, along with Mrs Martha Morales, AIMS VP in charge of social activities, the 25th anniversary Children’s race staged this year in Belgrade, as well as the strength they’ve shown to survive and even remain innovative, with the recent BEG Runway Run being the best example.

What benefits are gained by the cities and regions where marathons are held?

We have been talking since the beginning of this popular movement about the huge individual benefits that the practice of this easy physical exercise would have for the health and wellbeing of people of all ages, consequently leading to a decrease in the medical attention expenses of society. Moreover, with the numbers of people running today, marathons have become one of the key tourist attractions for cities that welcome thousands of runners, resulting in the best promotions of local historical, architectural, artistic and environmental assets, on top of the logical economic impact within city services.

PACO BORAO (LEFT) AND DEJAN NIKOLIĆ, DIRECTOR OF BELGRADE MARATHON

As a result, marathon organisations already consider that – along with the aforementioned positive business impact – they must seek quality in the services they provide, so not only on the sporting side but also in terms of all surrounding social and tourist services.

Finally, with all of this in mind, everybody around should understand that race organisers participate actively in the overall economic development of host cities and the minimising of the disruption caused to regular conditions for road transport. Here the local authorities have a key role to play in creating good harmony among all stakeholders in a city…

“Running is the sport that invented solidarity programmes within its events, and all this has been done out of the free initiative of lovers of this sport. The Belgrade Marathon, as a race, and AIMS, as the worldwide association of marathons and distance races, are perfect examples of that.”

According to many relevant surveys, tens of millions of people around the world are included in the so-called fourth wave of increasing the popularity of running, including those who are already running and those who are interested in this physical activity. All of that developed beyond the scope of either the IAAF or national athletic federations. How do you see the future of running as an activity and as an industry?

I believe deeply that projects, activities, works, and even people, represent a completely open track to the future when they are born birth, and where they end up will depend on how their drivers conduct them … Pheidippides never considered when he started his race or even he finished it, that his achievement would become the guiding light for millions of people flooding the entire world…

This is the simplest sport; it is just running – an activity that makes toddlers smile the first time they’re able to do it; a marathon is a race in which all runners cross the finish line as winners, no matter their performance. Running is the sport that invented solidarity programmes within its events, and all this has been done out of the free initiative of lovers of this sport. The Belgrade Marathon, as a race, and AIMS, as the worldwide association of marathons and distance races, are perfect examples of that.

I have no concern for this sport. Our future looks promising, and I can promise that at AIMS, as a not-for-profit association, we will keep doing everything we can to “foster and promote marathon and distance races throughout the world”, which is our primary objective.