Belfast Marathon to bypass the West?

After twenty three years of running the Belfast marathon through West Belfast the organisers have opted for a faster flatter route that controversially cuts out the west of the city. The Andersonstown News reports on the local reactions from Sinn Fein and the SDLP.From The Andersonstown News:

West axed from city marathon – Organisers want to make route “more attractive”

The decision not to include West Belfast in this year¹s route of the Belfast City Marathon has been slammed by Sinn Féin and SDLP councillors.

Councillor Paul Maskey of Sinn Féin, who is Development Coordinator of Fáilte Feirste Thiar which promotes tourism locally, said the decision to axe West Belfast undermines the hard work done by the tourism organisation to promote that part of the city. Traditionally the Falls Road has been included in the city¹s marathon but now that stage of the route has been axed in favour of a more “flatter and faster course” for participants.

Whilst Tiger¹s Bay and the Lough Shore in North Belfast is included in the race, the rest of the marathon is focused on Central, South and East Belfast, starting at the City Hall and winding up at the Odyssey Complex by the River Lagan.

Danny O’Connor, chairman of the Marathon Committee, told the Andersonstown News that “there is a safety aspect involved”.

“To make the runners safer we would need to have roads closed as it’s too dangerous for the runners to share the traffic with the roads for up to six hours. Out by the Shore Road there is less traffic, we have managed to get part of the road coned off and we’ll be returning through a pathway that runs along the side of the lough,” he said.

“Secondly, we have heard complaints about the route by people who
participate in the fun-run, they say it is more like an endurance test than fun so we wanted to remove the hilly areas.”

Mr O’Connor also pointed to the constraints involved regarding the 26 mile distance.

“We start at the City Hall and are limited by mileage down to the very metre so we have to make it exact.”

He also said that the organisers are trying to have the Belfast Marathon included on the international marathon map and by making the route ‘more attractive’, they are likely to attract more participants as well as the media. But for Paul Maskey those excuses don’t wash.

“All other parts of Belfast are included on the marathon route and I think it is an absolute disgrace that West Belfast is not included,” he said.

“Events such as the marathon can be used to showcase an area and brings thousands into an area. The decision not to include West Belfast is a terrible one and undermines the hard work done by organizations such as Fáilte Feirste Thiar which has worked extremely hard to build up a positive image of West Belfast,” he added.

And this message was echoed by West Belfast MLA ­ and keen marathon runner ­Alex Attwood. “The Belfast City Marathon has been successfully run through all areas of Belfast, north, south, east and west, for the last 23 years and it would be a far better route if it continued to enter and leave through all four regions of the city,” he said.

“The runners always received a warm welcome on the Falls and Andersonstown and it would be a loss to the community and a greater loss to the marathon if it doesn’t continue to pass through the West.”

The Belfast City Marathon takes place on May Day each year. This year it falls on May 2.

First published in the Andersonstown News on Monday 7th March 2005