CMA Board Members should focus on the Race (not on the race)

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It would be difficult to top Rowyn James’ infamous “Joggers” comment after Comrades 2023 but it looks like a Comrades Board Member has said, “Hold my glass of chardonnay, I’d like my shot at infamy.”

The above screen shot is from a WhatsApp allegedly (but almost certainly) sent by a current member of the Comrades Board. This Board member has never run Comrades, does not appear to have any direct connection with road running at all and I understand that this person was nominated to the Board by the Board member presiding over the portfolio responsible for cutoff times.

Despite the racial nature of the WhatsApp message and completely baseless claims that there is a drive to for the “CMA Board to be whites only”, I would implore those reading this not to be race baited regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum. Unfortunately, there is still plenty of racism in South Africa. Fortunately, there is very little in the sport of road running and in this case the issue is one of competence, not race.

I have been investigating a story of vote rigging and vote buying by specific Comrades Board members. There appears to be plenty of substance to these claims. Essentially an individual arrives with cash at Comrades House and pays cash for 50 to 80 Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) memberships in bulk at R100 per membership.

Registered CMA members get to vote and decide who will represent them on the Board at the AGM. In 2023 there were fewer than 200 CMA members and a large proportion – it appears to be well over 50% – of these were ‘bought’ memberships. The bought members are then bussed to the AGM (allegedly paid for by 4 members of the Board) and are told who to vote for. One of the beneficiaries of the votes of the ‘bussed in members’ is the Board member named as the sender of the WhatsApp message.

Here’s an eyewitness account from the last AGM, “I was at the last AGM and it was a real eye opener. All the things I was told happen, happened! Yes, they were “bussed” in and were given a list of who to vote for. Free drinks & food. I don’t think most present that evening could walk a 5km parkrun.”

As for the comments in the WhatsApp message, “Our new GM” refers to Ann Ashworth (although her official title Race and Operations Manager). The accusations are so baseless that they do not deserve a response. However, it is worthwhile pointing out that Ashworth has a long history of developing female athletes of all races (the overarching mission of Team Massmart, which Ashworth founded, was to nurture and develop the first black South African female Comrades winner).

It’s important to note that the Comrades Board as well as the salaried staff within the CMA remains unchanged from 2023 with one exception, Ann Ashworth. All the current Board members were on duty before and after the ill-fated 2023 Comrades event.

Strangely this is the first time I have seen a current CMA Board member advocating for new memberships. It serves incumbents well if there are no new members and the overall membership remains low because then the status quo remains and votes are easily manipulated. At the 2023 AGM, 5 people were nominated for 4 Board positions. The unlucky nominee to not get enough votes was Pat Freeman (one of fewer than 10 women with 30 or more Comrades finishes). However, Freeman was later coopted onto the Board as one of two positions available for appointment by the other Board members.

I have only seen three people actively advocating for runners to join the CMA on social media platforms – Norrie Williamson, David Ashworth (the husband of Ann Ashworth) and myself. These have all been done independently and generally are along the lines of, “If you love the Comrades Marathon and want to have a say in its future consider joining the CMA.” Specifically in the case of David Ashworth (as that is where some scrutiny will fall), he has put together a YouTube video (https://youtu.be/FUXkpdwV_eU) and social media posts about the benefits of joining the CMA which were all inclusive. There was no mention of race and, as they are shared on social media, there was no targeting on one specific demographic.

I would very much doubt that the new CMA applicants (however many there may be) are all ‘vanilla’. I have seen a list of the new membership applications up to May and, judging by the surnames, there are many flavours of ice-cream in the parlour.

Unfortunately, almost 30 years after democracy, we still have deplorable incidents of racism in South Africa and these should always be condemned. However, those that play the race card in an attempt to cover up their incompetence and protect their own self interest should be met with scorn and derision.

To this deplorable Board member, we should be united as the running community that it should be all about the Race and not about your race.

[I have sent the WhatsApp message to the Comrades Chair for comment and potential disciplinary action. I have also contacted the relevant Board member for comment. Not replied were received at the time of publication].

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What’s New & Improved at Comrades 2024?

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As someone who had plenty to say about what went wrong at Comrades 2023, it gives me great pleasure to write an article about what’s going right at Comrades 2024.

Much of the credit for the positive changes can be attributed to newly appointed Race & Operations Manager, Ann Ashworth, who left her career as an advocate to take up the position in November 2023. Under her leadership there’s renewed energy, innovation and an attention to detail that has been lacking for many years.

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Making A Step Change (the simple hack to add 3 years to your life)

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Vitality and the London School of Economics analysed the fitness data of over 1 million members over a 10-year period and found some startling results. The good news is that you don’t need to run marathons for major health and longevity benefits.

Just 2,500 steps a day, three times a week sees significant benefits; 5,000 steps a day, three times a week drastically increases the benefits – and the ‘sweet spot’ is just 7,500 steps a day, three times a week. Make this a habit by completing 7,500 steps a day, three times a week for two years and you can expect to extend your life expectancy by three years if you’re female and 2.5 years if you’re male.

The step count ‘sweet spot’ is 7,500 steps a day (source: The Vitality Habit Index).
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Giving Comrades plenty of Greeff

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Comrades is an event that involves the whole family. For most it is just one member of the family that is actually running but the entire family will have their routines and social activities rescheduled around their Comrades runner’s requirements. In households with kids where both partners run, careful coordination, negotiation and planning is required to ensure that everyone gets in enough distance to secure a medal in June.

However, for some families it’s not just weddings and funerals that brings them together. For these families, Comrades becomes a big day out and a fantastic family outing. Mark, Kathleen, Matthew, Daniel and Joshua Greeff are one such family.

The Greeff family after the Trac N4 Elands Marathon (note Mark’s 1990 Comrades shirt which he only brings out for special occasions).
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Johannesburg City Marathon (up in the dumps)

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[MARATHON #263 / UNIQUE MARATHON #159 / 24 March 2024]

I don’t run many marathons in Gauteng these days but when I do, I usually head to the south for Soweto or Jackie Gibson. The last time I ran a Gauteng marathon was 2 years ago at the Jackie Gibson, hosted by Johannesburg Harriers (the oldest running club Gauteng), and I was keen to see what their inaugural Johannesburg City Marathon had in store.

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What’s in a name? (A Eulogy to the Jackie Gibson Marathon)

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When I was at school, the matrics liked to roll marbles at their final assembly. The schoolboys all thought this was great fun but the teachers – and the deputy head in particular – not so much. I did not think that the deputy head’s face, who suffered from chronic alcoholism and was nicknamed “bottles”, could go any redder but the sound of a single marble rolling down the Memorial Hall was the trigger that would turn him purpler than Barney the Dinosaur after a long day in the sun*.

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Two Oceans Board member (and former chairperson) calls cutoff issue ‘trivial matter’

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It is in times of great turmoil that you hope for a hero. Someone who will step forward to create sense and order from the chaos. Someone who will do the right thing when others cower and hide. Someone who will act with the maturity and integrity that their peers seem incapable of.

As William Shakespeare said, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” It was indeed another William who raised his hand amidst the turmoil of the Two Oceans cutoff saga. William Swartbooi is a current Two Oceans Board member and former chairperson of the organisation.

This William is part of a Board that has stumbled over sensibility, tripped over truthfulness and trampled on the hopes and dreams of the runners they are meant to serve. If William Shakespeare were alive today, no doubt the Bard of Avon would shake his head in dismay and observe on the current Board of Bergvliet, “Some are born stupid, some achieve stupidity, and some have stupidity thrust upon them.”

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Comrades 2024: Polly Shortts cutoff likely to kill the dreams of hundreds

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The good news is that we’ll see runners on the field during the last minute before cutoff this year. The bad news is that we’ll still be a few hundred runners short of a full field.

After the cutoff debacle at Comrades 2023, the Comrades 2024 cutoffs were always going to come under scrutiny. When the original Comrades 2024 cutoffs were published, several people pointed out some serious potential flaws. It was encouraging to see that new Race and Operations Manager, Ann Ashworth, listened to the feedback and took them back for review.

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Mapungubwe Marathon (off with their heads)

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[MARATHON #262 / UNIQUE MARATHON #158 / 2 March 2024]

These days the Limpopo running scene is a bit like Hydra from the Marvel universe: Every time you knock the head off the “final” Limpopo marathon on your list, two more pop up. And so it was that I returned to Polokwane for the inaugural Mapungubwe Marathon.

I got hold of race director Phateng Kgomo to check the details I was missing on my March monthly marathons article and he had a very short and simple route description for me, “Out-and-back. Hard.” Polokwane routes tend to be very hot but fairly flat (and I’ve run over most parts of the city in the various marathons I’ve done) so I was intrigued to see what the race would offer in terms of hills.

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