Growing international interest in Sanlam Cape Town Marathon

Organisers of Africa’s only IAAF Gold Label-status multi-award-winning city marathon aim to increase international participation to at least 15% this year. Over eighty countries participated in last year’s Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, representing 10% of the marathon entrants. Southern African Development Community (SADC) states, Northern and Western Europe, Asia and North American countries were among them.

“In 2014, when we relaunched the revamped marathon, our timing couldn’t have been better,” says race director Janet Welham. “It coincided with The New York Times announcing Cape Town as the number-one spot on its ‘52 Places to Go’ list. That announcement triggered massive interest from around the world in Cape Town’s exotic appeal.”

An avalanche of international awards for the City of Cape Town followed in the next few years, most notably the top spot in the 2018 “World’s Leading Festival and Events Destination” at the World Travel Awards. “With South Africa and Africa ripe for a world-class, internationally accredited city marathon, and overseas runners wanting the guarantee of internationally accredited organisational excellence, we were able to meet their needs and more,” Welham says.

By last year, the marathon had itself won a welter of awards, from the Sports Industry Awards’ 2018 “Mass Participation Event of the Year” and “Event of the Year” by Runners World South Africa, to a bronze in the Climate Change category at the Eco-Logic Awards. And, for the third year running, the race was accredited with IAAF Gold Label status, cementing its position as Africa’s “must run” city marathon.

Taking place this year on Sunday 15 September, the classic 42.2km city marathon is the highlight of a weekend-long running festival that begins the day before with two Peace Trail Runs (22km and 12km) and a 5km Peace Run. Shortly before Sunday’s marathon, a 10km Peace Run takes place. Entries are now open for the marathon.

“The route for the marathon, at sea level, is a beautiful and fast course which, as we saw in 2018, increases runners’ chances of breaking records. Add this to an eclectic mix of heritage buildings, sea views and mountain vistas, the southern suburb’s tree-lined avenues, coupled with a great vibe, and you have a marathon that’s fast becoming known internationally for its interest and beauty,” comments race ambassador and Olympian Elana Van Zyl-Meyer. 

Marathon organisers have made a point of ensuring that the core offering of the race is environmentally sustainable and globally benchmarked. Last year, the marathon was certified a climate-neutral event, achieving zero waste to landfill. In 2017 the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon won the AIMS Green Award at a glittering ceremony held in Athens, Greece by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Race (AIMS). Entrants were judged on the impact of their races on promoting environmentally friendly practices, how volunteers contribute to the race’s success, and the ability of the event to educate younger generations about the benefits of sport and environmental protection.

“The AIMS endorsement increased our international standing and positioned our event as one with great meaning and social context: we aren’t just another beautiful tree-lined-city marathon, but an event that’s addressing the critical global issue of climate change, which piques the interest of runners from Western countries,” says Welham.

The marathon addresses its host city’s social and economic challenges too. Its Run4Change legacy programme has raised in excess of R2,5 million for over 50 charities. It adopted an extensive development programme which, among other things, has trained up 150 “development athletes” (up-and-coming stars) and enabled 800 disadvantaged kids to enter the smaller weekend events free of charge and with focused training workshops beforehand. And it co-hosted and supported the SACANRUN shoe drive which to date has distributed over 460 pairs of shoes to disadvantaged athletes in South Africa.

“As Africa’s biggest non-banking Pan-African company, Sanlam believes strongly in the potential and people of Africa. Our involvement in the Cape Town Marathon, Africa’s only IAAF certified gold race, is an extension of that belief in terms of hosting a platform for people to express their potential and resilience to achieve greatness in their personal endeavours and on the sports field,” says Mariska Oosthuizen, head of brand for Sanlam. “Further, every year the marathon gives us a great opportunity to interact with the people living in or visiting the city at the time of the event. The combined support of our financial support for the event, and the people participating in it, make an invaluable contribution the economic development of the City of Cape Town, through tourism and other commercial activities.”

With a possibility of attracting an increasing number of moneyed foreign runners to the city for the weekend, the marathon, like several other international sporting events, means increased spend in local businesses and injects millions into the local economy.

“The City of Cape Town has proven its ability in hosting large events. We are able to attract an increasing amount of local and international tourists to sporting events hosted in the city, further confirming our status as the world’s leading events and tourism destination. The Cape Town Marathon is quickly becoming a staple for athletes and running enthusiasts and we are excited at the potential growth it could bring. As a caring city we are pleased to see the event gives back to those less fortunate by raising funds through various charities,” said Executive Mayor Dan Plato.

In a bid to grow its international reach, this year the marathon has entered into a record number of partnerships with overseas sports-specialised travel agencies, including Penthouse Travel, Marathon Tours and Travel, Africa Marathons, Sportifs A Bord, Sports Tours International, Run Fun Travel, Marathon Costa Mar Travel, and I Run The Globe. “We’re giving runners from abroad an opportunity to run with great meaning, at international standards, in a city that’s radiating its light far and wide,” says Welham.

Africa is my home, this is my race. It’s Cape Town, must run it!

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