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Marathon fiasco – what can be learnt

Just over a month ago, the Sheffield half marathon was cancelled due to lack of water – and chaotic scenes ensued, with many of the 4100 runners carrying on regardless and police abandoning attempts to stop the run.

A classic scenario of a crisis. It was fast moving, decisions were made under pressure, revoked, messages not getting relayed, lack of communication to the key players – all played out to the world in the media spotlight.

Of course, my sympathies go out to the runners, organisers (who are all unpaid volunteers by the way), supporters and charities alike, because all have been affected.

So how could this have been averted?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I’m sure all the world’s running event organisers are now reviewing their procedures. Here are our recommendations for organisers:

  1. check, check and triple check that everything is in place before the event
  2. Giveaways MUST be delivered no less than 4 days before the event – there has to be room for unexpected delays
  3. Part of the management committee time needs to be spent on planning communications. You could set up a separate committee for this. Of course, it will be mainly coordinating good news, but crisis PR planning is vital. It’s like insurance… we all hope we’ll never need it, but are delighted that it’s in place when we need to call on it
  4. When crisis planning, go through all possible disaster scenarios, no matter how crazy they sound. Race organisers.. what would you do if:
      1. a sinkhole opens up en route?
      2. runners are injured?
      3. a building on the race route collapses?
      4. there’s a rail strike?
      5. motorways are shut?
      6. the medals don’t arrive?
      7. or heaven forfend… the water doesn’t turn up?
  5. Rehearse what will happen in each of these cases – what will you do, say, who will say it? Who will liaise with whom? A table top exercise will do, but more the more realistic the role play, the better. It really gets the adrenaline going.
  6. Learn from these sessions … and share your learnings. Nothing will stop the unexpected from happening – but you should expect to be prepared.


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