Actually, some people do just get the T-shirt without running the Comrades

The T-shirt and goody bag are worth more than the R600 entry fee for locals

20 May 2020 - 09:41 By Wendy Knowler
This year's world-famous ultra-marathon is yet another victim of Covid-19 as sports around the world are forced to a halt.
This year's world-famous ultra-marathon is yet another victim of Covid-19 as sports around the world are forced to a halt.
Image: Comrades Marathon Association

“It was not a perfect solution, but we felt it was the best possible solution.”

Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) chairperson Cheryl Winn was referring to the association’s decision to allow this year's 2,500 foreign Comrades entrants to carry over their entry fee to Comrades 2021 or 2022, while the 25,000 local runners have to be content with being given their Comrades 2020 T-shirt, goody bag, badge and flash.

Earlier this month, Winn announced the cancellation of this year’s world-famous ultra marathon “due to the Covid-19 pandemic showing no signs of abating and anticipated to peak in the coming months”.

Refunds were ruled out as an option, Winn said.

“We understand that this is a very tough time financially for many people, but if we had to refund all the entry fees, we’d have no money left to plan the 2021 race.”

She conceded, however, that “we did not give runners enough information about our decision”.

Last year 1,546 people registered for Comrades, got the T-shirt and then didn’t run 
CMA data

Explaining the discrepancy between the “solutions” afforded to local and foreign entrants, Winn said the latter’s entry fee was more than six times that of locals — R3,800 versus R600.

“We did not feel we could offer them a T-shirt and a goody bag, and besides that, there are logistical problems in getting those things to the foreigners.”

While the CMA was able to stop the production of the 2020 Comrades Marathon medals, the T-shirts and goody bags had already been procured by the time this year’s race was called off.

The T-shirt and goody bag were worth more than R600, Winn pointed out.

Sponsors Bonitas and Mr Price Sport had lessened the costs to the CMA to some extent, she said.

Predictably, the “no refund but you can have a T-shirt and goody bag” announcement was not well received by some local runners.

“So Comrades is cancelled and SA runners will not be getting a refund, or part thereof, but the race shirt and goody bag,” tweeted Tony Huglin. “Who wears a race shirt for a race they never ran, especially Comrades? What about carrying entries forward to 2021 or offering a discount?”

Actually, Winn told TimesLIVE, the statistics reveal that in previous years, quite a few people registered to run the marathon, got the T-shirt and then didn’t run the next day. Last year 1,546 people did that.

The event was not fully sponsored this year, Winn said. “Those sponsors which had paid us have been refunded, and those that hadn’t paid us yet, will not be paying us.”

The last three years had been “incredibly tight” for the CMA financially, Winn said, given the downturn in the economy.

Given the inevitable need for stringent hygiene practices and physical distancing in the staging of Comrades 2021, she said, the entry fees would probably have to increase “substantially”.

“We really want to be able to offer 2020 entrants a substantially reduced fee, but we can't promise that now,” she said.

“We need to protect both our runners and the sustainability of the race.”