Charity races not necessarily all that charitable

‘Both the quality and quantity of certain road races is becoming increasingly worrying to certain clubs around the country’

Now in its 12th year, the Great Ireland Run has established itself as one of the largest participation road races in the country.

Now in its 12th year, the Great Ireland Run has established itself as one of the largest participation road races in the country.

Sat, Apr 5, 2014, 06:00

It used to be that running for charity helped cover up some of our sins. Now it seems help is needed for some charities running from sins of their own. Even if there’s no cover up it’s easy to see without looking too far that not much is really sacred.

Now, read on – and especially members of the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts (PAC). While they’re investigating pay arrangements at the Rehab Group, and not forgetting what went on at the Central Remedial Clinic, they might want to take a look at the accounts of certain road races, and indeed some of the charities associated with them. And the sooner Alan Shatter formally establishes a Charities Regulatory Authority the better for all involved.

There has always been a grey area between running a business and running a charity, and running for a charity is no exception. At least these days it’s not. The matter was a highlighted just a few weeks ago when a new entry into the badly gridlocked traffic that is the road-race business ran into some trouble. It never actually sold itself as anything other than a purely business venture (no elite or even competitive element, lots of fancy dress, etc) but it did list an “official charity partner” – which some people naturally felt might benefit from part of the race entry fee.

Instead, not one single cent of the race entry fee went to the charity: runners could either donate or fundraise on their own behalf, which is the way a lot of road races work when it comes to their “official charity partner”. The problem is that some road races are still happy to promote themselves as some sort of charity events, without raising one single cent, and the charities themselves don’t seem to mind either as long as they get the free publicity, even on somewhat misleading grounds. The intentions might be good, as most charitable causes are, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of some closer inspection.

Public benefit
If one of the aims of the new Charities Regulatory Authority is to “promote understanding of the requirement that charitable purposes confer a public benefit” then any road race with an “official charity partner” should be inspected. This won’t be easy, at least not at this time of the year when the road race season hits its dizzying peak. Tomorrow’s Great Ireland Run in the Phoenix Park – now in its 12th year – has established itself as one of the largest mass participation road races in the country.

In fairness the Great Ireland Run also promotes a healthy balance between the competitive elite and the casually uncompetitive. Fionnuala Britton, for example, faces off against Sophie Duarte from France, the woman who took her European Cross Country title last December. It also doubles as the National 10km Championships and the addition of an elite mile race is a nice teaser for the track season ahead.

The Great Ireland Run does have a designated charity too, in 3Ts (turn the tide of suicide) and again that comes down to runners fund-raising on their own behalf. All perfectly legit, and lots of good money has been raised for charities of the back of the Great Ireland Run.

Still, with the lack of any real regulation, this is becoming an increasingly worrying grey area, because it doesn’t deter or indeed prevent any new entry onto the road race scene – whether that’s the Farmer John Family Forage 5K or the Old Inn Outsider 10k – from masquerading as a charity run, with the premise, or indeed false promise, that some of the race entry fee will go to some charitable cause.


Tarnished by mistrust
Part of the worry is that proper charity road races may be tarnished by some similar mistrust. Last Wednesday at the Glenview Hotel, the Wicklow Hospice Foundation was presented with a cheque for €10,000 – the latest contribution from the indefatigable road race efforts of Billy Porter and his team of runners – and every single cent of the money raised from the Avondale Half Marathon and 10k in February.

None of this should be confused with the innocent and purely harmless additions to the road-racing scene such as the Park Run – which really don’t promote themselves as anything above the simple concept of getting more people out running. Although whether they’re doing anything to promote the standards of distance running is a debate for another day.

What is certain is that both the quality and quantity of certain road races is becoming increasingly worrying to certain clubs around the country – including the idea of an “official charity partner”. In fact several motions to the Athletics Ireland Congress in Cork later this month address the issue – including the drawing up of “additional licence application regulations and provisions” covering applications for or on behalf of charities and commercial entities.

Overly charitable
There are similar motions looking to ensure that “no permit is given to a road race within a 50k radius of another road race that already has a permit and a period of five days between both events be enforced” and that “25 per cent of permit fees be returned to the relevant county board”.

Because for too long Athletics Ireland has been overly charitable when it comes to road races, and it’s about time more of that charity went to the proper homes.

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