Elite status bid over for S'pore marathon

Organisers Ironman Group's sale by Wanda ends chances of joining exclusive Major club

The start of the 2019 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, which attracted over 50,000 participants and had more than 70,000 spectators lining the route. It was held virtually last year owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The start of the 2019 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, which attracted over 50,000 participants and had more than 70,000 spectators lining the route. It was held virtually last year owing to the coronavirus pandemic. ST FILE PHOTO

The Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon's (SCSM) bid to join an elite club of races is over, race organiser The Ironman Group announced yesterday.

The Abbott World Marathon Majors (WMM) series is an exclusive set of just six of the leading marathons in the world - Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City.

The Republic had put its hand up to join the series in 2017, the same year the WMM inked an exclusive partnership with China's Wanda Sports Group to expand the series and develop marathon events worldwide.

According to a statement on the WMM website, two races - the Singapore Marathon and the Chengdu Marathon - had been put forth by Wanda to be considered for inclusion. However, last March, Wanda offloaded the Ironman Group for US$730 million (S$970 million).

The WMM added: "Following the sale of the Ironman Group (who operates the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon) by the Wanda Sports Group, the Singapore race is no longer a part of that candidate process. Wanda Sports Group has the exclusive right to put forward these races."

The decision, noted national sports agency Sport Singapore and the Singapore Tourism Board in a statement, was "commercial".

The Singapore Marathon typically attracts close to 50,000 runners annually. It is the nation's largest mass participation sports event and in 2019 - the last year it was held in the physical format before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic - the event saw 70,000 spectators line the streets to cheer participants on.

Despite the disappointment, the Ironman Group said it "remains committed to delivering world-class race experiences and will continue our efforts in producing a signature event for the global running community".

It declined to reveal how much it had invested in its attempt to attain WMM status.

Sport Singapore and the STB also pledged to continue backing the event and to "continue to develop the SCSM as a world-class World Athletics Gold Label race for Singaporeans and our global participants".

James Walton, head of Deloitte South-east Asia's sports business group, was surprised by the announcement, saying: "It seems that the Ironman Group and Wanda going on their separate ways have had an impact on this decision. It is clear that there is something going on around the whole situation, but we can't be sure yet."

He pointed out that this decision is disappointing for Singapore, especially since earning Major status would have "helped build the stature of the marathon".

He added: "While the SCSM is not as naturally attractive and does not have the prestige that other marathons such as Berlin or London have, there are people who will travel around the world to complete the marathons.

"It would have helped to put Singapore on the map."

For national marathoner Soh Rui Yong, who won the local men's marathon title in 2019, the news was not a surprise to him, given the Covid-19 situation has caused much uncertainty around Singapore's mass running events.

He said: "It is definitely nice to have a bigger event on your home ground, but it's not a life or death thing. Runners are a resilient bunch. We can always find other races to take part in."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2021, with the headline 'Elite status bid over for S'pore marathon'. Subscribe