Furore over Farah’s Cape marathon ambassador role


British long-distance runner, Sir Mohamed 'Mo' Farah

JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) ORGANISERS of the Sanlam Cape Town Virtual Marathon have defended their choice of Sir Mo Farah as the ambassador of the race.

The Briton has been selected ahead of local athletes.

There has some consternation among some sections of the athletics community who feel South Africa has accomplished runners that organisers of the race scheduled for October should have utilised in that role.

Among those whose names have bandied are Stephen Mokoka, the race’s record holder, with 2 hours 8:31 seconds set in 2018.

However, in an interview with CAJ News Africa, Barry van Blerk, General Manager of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, justified the choice of having the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history as the ambassador and draw-card for the race.

Van Blerk conceded the choice had not been entirely well-received.

“We are aware of this, have followed comments closely, and respect the views shared in this regard,” he said.

He added, “These comments have been in the minority.”

Van Blerk mentioned that the South African pair of Elana Meyer and Francois Pienaar had been the event’s official race ambassadors since 2014.

This disputes suggestions organisers snubbed locals.

Capetonian Meyer won silver in the 10 000 metres in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. She also secured gold at the 1994 World Half Marathon Championships and set world records at the event in 1991, 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Francois captained the Springboks to the 1995 Rugby World Cup victory on home soil, in one of the country’s most iconic sporting moments.

“As things are a little different this year with the staging of the Sanlam Cape Town Virtual Marathon, we started exploring the possibility of working with other ambassadors / influencers,” van Blerk explained.

The traditional race was cancelled due to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

“We specifically looked at athletes with a high global reach on social media who would potentially partner with us as an international influencer to promote the Virtual Race to a larger global audience this year – and in doing so, entice international participant growth of the actual event in Cape Town from 2021,” van Blerk said.

He said international participants elevated the global status of an event, and as most international participants also travelled with their families, hence they had a positive economic impact on the city.

“As an influencer, Sir Farah’s promotion of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon to his massive international audience will raise the profile of the event, and hopefully help us grow in global stature in the years to come.”

Somali-born Farah (37), the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medalist, recently expressed excitement ahead of the virtual race.

He will race in the 10km Virtual Peace Run in the UK.

According to van Blerk, Farah, knighted in 2017, had been to South Africa many times as part of training camps and programmes.

He has never had the opportunity to participate in this marathon hailed as Africa’s only World Athletics Gold Label Marathon.

“He (Farah) is excited that the Sanlam Cape Town Virtual Marathon allows him to be a part of this iconic event and that the unique format of the race – powered by a Virtual Race App – will enable him to experience the unique sounds of the 10km Peace Run on 18 October,” ven Blerk concluded.

– CAJ News

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