15 Major Concerns & Problems after Comrades 2023


Below are the contents of a letter sent to the Comrades Chairperson Mqondisi Ngcobo on 9 July ahead of the Comrades debriefing sessions (which were held from 10 – 12 July). It outlines major issues from the 2023 event reported by runners. I have also taken the liberty of providing some suggestions to address the issues.

It has now been one-and-a-half months since Comrades was held and there has been no publicly shared plans, actions or accountability from the CMA. The biggest fear is that the the problems will be swept under the carpet and with no root causes being addressed.

I had a good 45 minute ‘off the record’ (on my suggestion) telephonic discussion with Chairman Ngcobo around many of these issues the previous Friday (7 July). I indicated that I am planning to write an article on the issues and there was an opportunity for the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) to provide their action plan so that I could list what is being done ahead of the 2024 event. This provides an opportunity to move the focus to the future and ensure we see no repeat offenses.

It is much more pleasant engaging with the Chairman than the Race Director. The following response was received, “I welcome every point you have raised here, and your feedback shall form part of our plans for the 2024 edition. I would also like to register my appreciation on behalf of the Board, to you personally, for your observations and for extending an olive branch to the CMA.”

I was told to expect an announcement on Friday the 15th of July – a date which has come and gone. I have followed up a couple of times in eager anticipation of the announcement (Chairman Ngcobo has said all the right things and I am cautiously optimistic that the CMA will finally take accountability and provide a clear plan for addressing the 2023 issues) and am assured that we can expect the announcement no later that Wednesday 26 July.

Once the announcement and action plan are communicated, I plan to update this (or publish a new) article that can be used to keep CMA employees and elected officials honest and hold the custodians of our great race accountable before and after the 2024 event.

Note: Runner comments from social media have been added into this article for additional context but were not included in the original document (which is attached below) sent to the Chairman.

Here are the 15 Major Concerns…

(some are more serious than others)

1. Safety at Start

It appears that a combination of reprehensible behaviour by some runners together with insufficient staff and poor access led to stampeding and near crushing incidents as well as runners being knocked over. This is probably the most serious issue and if not addressed is likely to lead to critical injuries or death at a future event.


  • Use photographic and video evidence to disqualify any runners jumping or pushing over fencing.
  • Evaluate how other large international races are effectively processing larger numbers of runners effectively and implement learnings.
  • Better trained volunteers and security staff (there are several first-hand reports from runners who were given incorrect information which caused confusion and congestion).
  • Use timing chip information to disqualify or penalise runners that cross the start line in an impossible time (e.g. it’s impossible for an H batch runner to cross in the first minute).
  • Consider mat-to-mat timing (personally I would not like to see this but it may be the best option).
  • Consider separate starts that merge later in the race (e.g. like London Marathon does).
  • Drop the fences much later to give people more time to get to their pens.

2. The poor quality of the sound system at the start

This should be simple to solve. It would be good to know what the root cause of this year’s issues were (i.e. provide an honest, transparent answer to runners).

3. Incorrect T-shirt sizes

With 30 years of precedent as well as runners entering 7 months beforehand and specifying their size, this should also be simple to solve. If runners don’t get the size they ordered, CMA / Mr. Price should arrange that they can collect the correct sized shirt from a Mr. Price store.

The race distance was also incorrect on the shirt which is an amateur mistake.

4. Congestion and safety negligence with detour at 3.5km

The stated reason for this detour was that traffic police did not correctly barricade the N3 highway. Getting the well paid traffic police to do their job should be the problem to sort out rather than forcing 16,000 runners though a dark, narrow, unsafe side street in Pietermaritzburg.

This topic and the gross negligence for runner safety is covered in detail in the Nightmare of Epworth Street article (to be published).

READ: The Nightmare on Epworth Street (Safety negligence at Comrades breaks bones and shatters dreams)

There are three safety issues outlined within this document. Genuine runner safety should be the number one priority. As a show of good faith that the CMA is taking and addressing the negligence to safety seriously, I would suggest that the two Technical Delegates who resigned because their concerns were ignored are reinstated in 2024. If they are happy that the 2024 event is safe, then the running community can be comfortable that the 2023 issues have been addressed (and no new ones have been introduced).

5. Bailer Buses on Route

Bailer buses were on the runners’ route from Cato Ridge all the way through to the finish, getting in the way of and interfering with runners.

From an anonymous source, the buses were told to drive on the route by traffic officials and were not allowed to follow the pre-race routing.

You are paying R1million to the traffic authorities, hold them accountable for the agreed plans. The CMA should be monitoring the traffic situation the entire day and have the relevant authorities (up to MEC level) on speed dial if and when they deviate from the agreed pre-race plans.

The Minister of Sport is happy to call the race office to make sure his Russian comrades are allowed to run so surely the race office can return the favour to ensure traffic and metro police perform the agreed race days activities as agreed.

6. Female runner facilities

There is a lack of facilities along the route for female runners who are menstruating. I would suggest engaging with your female runners (especially those with multiple Comrades) to ask how this situation can be improved. Possible solutions are special “female only” facilities at special points along the route.

This issue has been raised by runners and ignored in the past.

I would also suggest adding a special portfolio to take feedback on how the Comrades can be improved for female runners.

7. Cutoff timings

This one should be very simple, use an equation (similar to DLS in cricket) to determine fair and reasonable cutoff times.

Engage the expertise and experience of the official Comrades pacing team and management.

Some sensible suggestions from Paul Murphy (who manages the pacing buses).

Avoid the opinion-based decisions of one-man who seems to have a vendetta against “joggers”.

8. Cutoff guns fired too early

There is video evidence as well as official split timing showing that cutoff guns were fired too early at Pinetown and Sherwood.

Ensure that the timing clocks at the cutoff points are in sync with the official race time. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and slow down the cutoff clocks to allow slightly longer for people to cross (allowing someone through a few seconds late is a much better scenario than cutting off someone early).

In a situation like this year when the cannon fired 20 seconds late, it would also be best to adjust the cutoff accordingly (although the final finish line gun would fire on official time).

READ: Where did all the runners go? The Comrades cutoff debacle.

The Sherwood cutoff gun firing 5-6 seconds too early (official split timing showed that the first runners blocked were under the cutoff time).

9. Heavy handed cutoff officials

Whilst this problem is likely to be largely resolved if sensible cutoff times are reinstated, there was a disturbingly heavy-handed approach by officials at the cutoff points. The cutoffs along the route should not be treated the same way as the final finish line cutoff. The referees and volunteers should have some “customer service” training so that they can better deal and empathise with cutoff runners.

10. Unawareness of race day issues

It is a real problem that senior CMA staff and officials seem totally oblivious to what is happening on the route during the event and how the race is being experienced by 90% of their runners.

I would suggest that CMA staff and officials who are not running Comrades (which is almost all of them), are actively in touch with support tables, race referees and other stakeholders along the route. If this were the case in 2023, the situation of bailer buses on the route could have been sorted out during the run.

I would also suggest having some runners (from different seeding batches) to provide live information of race day issues to the organising team (i.e. they can flag race day issues to the organising team for immediate resolution).

The portfolio debriefs are scheduled to take place a month after the event. This is far too long. The standard at international events is the week afterwards (with most doing debriefs one or two days after the event).

11. Running out of medals

There were insufficient Wally Hayward, Isavel Roche-Kelly, Silver and Back-to-Back medals at the finish.

This is another easy problem to solve with basic math. Adjust the standard medal numbers by the increase in runners and adjust for race distance. If you have 20% more runners on a course that is 2.5% shorter you are going to need more silver medals.

12. Safety at the finish

In addition to the other safety concerns raised, the capacity at Kingsmead is apparently insufficient to cater for Comrades runners and supporters and violated health and safety legislation.

It should be noted that the officially stated reason for moving from Kingsmead to Moses Mabhida in 2018 was that Comrades exceeds maximum health and safety numbers at the smaller Kingsmead venue.

As a runner, I think the Kingsmead finish is better and more personal than Moses Madhida but creative solutions need to be found if the Kingsmead venue is to be the finish in future years (especially with the 100th Comrades due to be run in four years time).

One solution, proposed by Norrie Williamson, is to move to a street finish (which is what the World Marathon Majors do). It’s important that new ideas are tried and lessons learned before the centenary run.

13. Tidying up the route

The route was shabby, ridden with litter and in some places dangerous with open manholes and potholes. The municipalities are the main financial benefactors (both directly in the various fees they charge the race and indirectly through the R544million that Comrades brings into the local economy each year).

Comrades has a massive local and international audience and can also be seen as a tourism advert for the thousands of international runners that participate. Cleaning up litter, trimming verges and fixing open manholes and potholes along the route before race day used to be standard practice but seems to have been forgotten in 2023.

14. Stop half-truths and outright lying from the communications team

There appears to be a toxic culture within the paid Comrades staff who practice the continual peddling of half-truths and outright lies in official press releases and statements in the media.

READ: The Empire Strikes Back (but not very hard)

This is a violation of the CMA’s own constitution and those that continue this practice should be held to account.

READ: Winn blocked by CMA losers

15. Terrible communications

This is different but related to the above point. Many runners who raise issues and concerns with Comrades get totally ignored. Examples of this is the runner who has twice raised the issue of female facilities for women runners along the route and an international runner who sent a detailed query about the Pinetown cutoff. Neither received as much as an acknowledgement.

Those that do get a response seem to be brushed off with messages like “we will escalate this to the relevant team” and never get any further feedback. The runner that broke her leg in the Epworth Road congestion got a terribly sterile, impersonal and unemphatic response signed by “Comrades Marathon Association.” The club of one of the runners cutoff at Sherwood when the gun was fired too early (official timing shows that he made the cutoff) is still awaiting a response other than “we’ll look into this.”

Based on the interactions I’ve had and the emails forwarded to me by other runners, it appears that runners are treated as a necessary inconvenience rather than as customers and the reason why Comrades exists in the first place.

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8 Replies to “15 Major Concerns & Problems after Comrades 2023”

  1. This was so sad to read. I’ve only recently started learning about and following the Comrades and might be crazy enough to take part one day. Hopefully things get better from here. These problems sound like something an amateur or new race should have, not one that is almost 100 years old.

    One small note, it was one and a half months ago, not two and a half months ago. Although it sounds like there will be no response in another month anyway.

  2. Awesome list and by no means exhausted or the only list – we as elites have a list which we will be addressing shortly – however many of our concerns also overlap – especially Communication and decisions made without a reasonable impact study and or all roll players involved – which certainly creates a sense of being outside and not role-players . The start was a nightmare and many elites almost did not get into the start before the a batch broke through
    Getting to the start was challenging to say it mildly
    As an elite pro team it’s actually surprising how little support is given to us and fascinating how the non elites clubs and teams /support teams helped us – a feather in the social running caps and little for anyone else – thanks to them is a must . They represent the true comrades spirit – and are never joggers but runners – ps joggers cannot run 90 odd km .
    There are many more points however o will be sending my full list closer to the event in the hope that the need will be remembered for the next event
    As far as allowing this to be swept away or under the carpet – the only thing that is happening now is the hype of the event is subsiding however these matters will not disappear as some seem to hope and I believe they will become more vocal next year .

  3. Running Mann
    Regarding the safety issue in to directing all the runners on to Epworth St. That was a disaster just waiting to happen.
    There is a parallel to this situation where 97 people were trampled to death at a football match due to people pushing from the back.
    Just google ‘hillsborough, and you can read about it for yourself.

  4. I really think we should boycot entering 2024 until Comrades has at least attempted a form of apology and publicly announced a commitment of what will be improved and in place for 2024.

    Last but not least, The Two Oceans team need to improve the collection of numbers! This year was an absolute nightmare waiting in-line for 4 hrs to collect a number! Surely numbers and packs can be collected at different points to improve the congestion??

    These organisers get more rude and greedy than ever before! There is just no more passion for the sport and support for the runner! All you get is atrociously rude staff and a huge bill to pay for the privilege. All wrong!

  5. I agree that the issues around the Kingsmead finish can be engineered out, as many of the other rookie mistakes made during this 100+year old event. It was, and still is the best finish venue, ask any Comrades runner. How difficult is it to build a scaffold, 4x wider and far lesser slope to exit the stadium, to name one of the concerns. The “safety reasons” for the move to Moses Mabida in 2018 was driven by those officials who wanted to “utilize” the white elephant of a SWC stadium. The same happened to Newlands in Cape Town. With the right decision makers in place, the Comrades Marathon should be better every year. Thanks Running Man and all the other veterans who are putting up there hands.

  6. i would like to see footage of comrades route at umlaas road about 70 -71km to go ,where the road work vehicles were on right side of the route and the stand up chevron road barriers to direct traffic with cement bags on footpieces preventing them to blow over standing in road on side where runners ran…
    I fell over one … broke and hurt ribs …badly bruised my right shoulder…hip…knees…ankle etc and hit side of my head very hard ….somehow i managed to finish comrades in 11 h 54 and odd seconds…but its 7 weeks tomrw and still struggling to heal and be without pain..went for xrays twice…twice to chiro…
    I would really like to see footage from elite vehicles on where and how these barriers were standing where runners ran…im sure some other runners tripped or fell over these as well…

  7. Hi RM,
    Thank you for your tireless efforts in pursuing equity, fairness and responsibility from CMA to runners. Is there any merit in petitioning the pro/elite running clubs like nedbank etc and/or the elite/pro athletes as well to support our concerns? Surely their input and adding weight to these will add gravitas & urgency to what is joggers are raising? I think the CMA is more likely to “listen” if pros add their voice at the risk of these pro clubs n their runners withdrawing their support? Ditto for the corporate sponsors like Toyota, Bonitas etc. Do they want to be associated with such poor publicity and dismal organising by the CMA? Their sponsorships plays a huge part in hosting this event each year & the race would grind to a halt if they (legitimately) threaten to withdraw.

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