14 years and counting, Mumbai Marathon has survived and grown
The one facet missing still is a winner from India in the open event. That would be a landmark moment, not just for the Mumbai Marathon but also for Indian sport.mumbai Updated: Jan 18, 2018 23:29 IST
When the first Mumbai Marathon took place in January 2004, there was a lot of fanfare and hullabaloo as would be expected in a maiden event of this kind, but also subterranean pessimism whether it could be sustained.
I was among the skeptics. Agonisingly so, because while I believed that the Marathon would not only give sports in India a boost, but also add a wholesome new dimension to Mumbai’s ethos, there just seemed too many obstacles to overcome for it to survive.
My compunctions were largely located in the administrative and organisation aspects of holding a sports event. In 1990, I had got to know first hand how difficult this was when the first-ever triathlon in India was held in Mumbai.
Ace swimmer Anita Sood and her coach Sandeep Divgikar (sadly deceased at a young age) were fired with ambition at doing something for sports beyond cricket. The actor Tom Alter (also sadly deceased last year) was inspired to team up with them.
I made up the quartet after a patient listening to their plans. The triathlon comprised a short distance swim at Juhu beach, then the cycling leg to Shivaji Park and culminated in a longish road running event.
Among those who participated were actors Aamir Khan and Milind Soman. From all accounts, the triathlon was a success. But there wasn’t to be another edition as all kinds of spokes and hindrances cropped up soon after.
Federations controlling swimming, cycling and athletics, their hegemony threatened, chose to pull out support.
This would obviously impact sponsorship. But that was still non-existent. More importantly, why would any athlete participate without official recognition?
This is where organisers of the Mumbai Marathon have to be lauded. If we had a small mountain to climb with the triathlon — and failed — the Mumbai Marathon was like climbing the Everest, which they’ve done successfully, overcoming all impediments with diligence, commitment and conviction, to make it bigger by the year.
Given the number of power centres involved — government, state bureaucracy, sundry politicians, BMC, police, big corporate houses and stars and celebs with their own idiosyncracies and demands — it can’t have been easy. Leave aside making it financially viable.
Most edifying is the gravitas the Mumbai Marathon enjoys today as a sports event. Initially there was understandable emphasis on getting a high ‘celeb quotient’, with film stars, business honchos etc. That is still there, but as an adjunct to the main draw. The race is paramount.
Continued success of the Mumbai Marathon spawned long distance race events across the country, and that in many ways, I believe, provided impetus to the rise in awareness about fitness in the country.
Countless people now train for such races months in advance. This makes emphasis on fitness, diet and changes in lifestyle imperative. In a country renowned for lethargy in physical effort, this is hugely important.
The ‘soft power’ of the marathons, of course, is in the money raised for charity, which has great social significance. Many participate — run, trot or walk — for a cause they support, which would otherwise have been blighted.
I understand the amount raised for charity this year (the Marathon is to be run Sunday morning) is Rs25 crore. In the first year it was Rs1.4 crore. Even allowing for the erosion in value of money over time — and growing disposable income — this is fantastic.
Outside of the Olympics and other multi-nation events, marathons have come to be identified with global cities. It is only befitting that Mumbai, the country’s pre-eminent metropolis (yes, I am biased!), was the first with such an event. And remains the best.
The Mumbai Marathon is not in the same league as, say, the one held in New York which has over 1 lakh participants.
But given the tenure of the two marathons such comparison is odious. What’s relevant is that with almost 50,000 participants, Mumbai is fast catching up.
The one facet missing still is a winner from India in the open event. That would be a landmark moment, not just for the Mumbai Marathon but also for Indian sport.