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Home / Other Sports / Delhi Half Marathon: A race where runners stand to lose more than win

Delhi Half Marathon: A race where runners stand to lose more than win

The Delhi Half Marathon is all set to go off exactly as planned, despite the poor air quality pollution in the capital city and the event taking place when the particulate matter is at its highest

other-sports Updated: Nov 10, 2017 19:55 IST
Leslie Xavier
Leslie Xavier
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Air pollution in India's capital has hit hazardous levels, but the Delhi Half Marathon is going ahead regardless.
Air pollution in India's capital has hit hazardous levels, but the Delhi Half Marathon is going ahead regardless. (AP)

With the Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers consistently hovering around north of 400 (with the hazardous zone starting at 250), here are a few ways to remain healthy and fit in Delhi-NCR’s worst pollution spell of the year: Stay indoors, wear activated carbon (hepa-filtered) masks when you venture out, get an air purifier for your bedroom if you can afford it, and last, but not the least, run a half marathon in the smog at that time of the day when the particulate matter is at its highest!

The irony cannot be missed here though, the situation is far from ironic. Like all things, Delhi is split about air pollution too, with many even branding it as a ‘passing phase’, or a sign of the ‘onset of winter’. This despite the fact that the government has declared it an emergency and health professionals have been crying out to the public to act with extreme caution.

READ | Unfazed by Delhi air pollution, top global athletes ready for Half Marathon

Meanwhile, the running community in Delhi, rather alarmingly one should add, has been braving the pollution to gear up for the city’s most celebrated annual public sporting event -- the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM), organised by Procam International, who holds similar long-distance city-based event across the country through the year.

The Delhi Half Marathon is one of Procam’s flagship events, alongside the Mumbai Marathon, the Bengaluru 10k, the Kolkata 25k and many others, and the firm has played a big role in the running revolution India has witnessed in the past decade.

However, in the last couple of years, Procam’s stance, or rather, its reluctance to work towards a better and relatively pollution-free window for the Delhi race, makes us wonder if the firm (Procam is not a non-profit organisation), has forgotten that it is not just in the business of organising races and making money out of it but also, even if inadvertently, is in a noble cause of spreading health and fitness as a culture.

Clear air a myth

A week before the race day, November 19 this year, even as the AQI in and around Delhi remained hazardously around the 650s, Delhi Half Marathon’s race organisers have chosen to ignore tangible data as well as advice from experts. They are hopeful the air would clear in a week.

They should know by now that though wishful thinking is good, Delhi’s best air in the ongoing season would still be hazardous by global health standards. And we are talking about holding a full-blown race in it. Perhaps, they should take a cue from how the FIFA U-17 World Cup organisers ensured no match happened in the capital after Diwali last month.

The Delhi Half Marathon will witness an elite field of athletes led by men’s world marathon champion Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya and world record holder and Rio Olympics women’s 10,000m champion, Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia.

Vivek Singh, one of the founders of Procam and its joint managing director, pointed out the presence of champions as a positive sign, and listed out some stopgap means they would employ on the race route, as ways to minimize the effect of pollution on the runners.

“Since all top global runners haven’t withdrawn, it’s evident they are supporting the event,” said Singh in an interaction with journalists on Wednesday.

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“This is also the most attended single sports related event with 35,000 participants and cancelling this race will be a huge loss not only for sports but for the society, for this city,” Singh added, saying the organisers would sprinkle water with salt on the race route to make this better for the runners.

We all know how futile that would be!

Business or health?

Of course, one understands the business dynamics involved. The race is not just about a few elite athletes and recreational runners completing a distance of 21km. The whole event has a well-set scaffolding of brands surrounding it, which creates the buzz as well as ecosystem for the race to be successful -- in participation as well as revenue generation.

Sports greats have come in as brand ambassadors -- this year US Olympic swimmer Anthony Ervin -- will be in town as well -- and there are a lot at stake for the organisers.

But what’s at stake for the city and its citizens is bigger -- health! Long-term exposure to the pollutants -- and recreational runners at the Delhi race will be exposed to that three to four times longer than the elite runners -- could lead to irreparable damage to the respiratory system, not to mention possible implications such as cancer in the long run.

One does understand the organisers’ problem with cancelling or postponing the race at the last moment. But then, pollution is not a last minute problem in Delhi.

Similar questions and sentiments were raised last time in the build up to the half marathon. The organisers, if they really cared about the participants and the city’s interest, should have put some serious effort into rescheduling the event, getting the required clearance from the international body (IAAF), to a better time.

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Foolhardy runners

Procam, with clear streaks of arrogance, chose not to. Procam’s audacious programming derives its clout from the running community, who are caught up in this idea that any form of running, in any environment, is a personal mission to prove their physical mettle. Indian running community, young as they are, sadly act their age too -- metaphorical teenagers who are foolhardy to embark on quests which would leave them scarred their entire lives.

If the run takes place on November 19, of course it would be a success. But will it signify a victory over pollution. No! In fact, it would just be a validation for pollution and its causes -- as if saying, for Delhi, nothing matters, and the show will go on.

“We were given to understand last year that various measures were being put in place, so that conditions we witnessed last year would not occur again. However they have occurred again, so we will do whatever it takes, to ensure that the next edition enjoys a more favorable environment,” said Procam in a statement.

And how will Procam and its supporting cast of corporate sponsors come out from all of this -- clearly as successful race organisers with their best interests in mind and nothing else!