The Mawana Marathon was held yesterday (17 Feb., 2013). It is the oldest, cheapest... and arguably the most badly organized annual athletic event in Delhi.
At first glance, the event had everything going right for it -- 23 years of steady corporate sponsorship (the Usha/Sriram Group, Red FM); it was being held "under the aegis" of the Athletics Federation of India and the running route was no doubt the most scenic you could ask for in Delhi. And yet, shoddiness of the organizers is perhaps matched only by the lack of serious intent in the vast majority of 'runners' who turned up at India Gate.
Even though the event had been open for online registration a couple of months ago, the process could not be completed unless you turned up personally at the National Stadium to pay the Rs.50 as registration fees, a day before the event. Since there were only a few officials to direct or regulate the crowds, it was hardly surprising to see thousands of youngsters jostling to reach the payment counters. Once you managed to pay the fees, there were separate counters for collecting the bibs and electronic tags. The entire exercise took about two hours.
'Instructions for Marathoners' did not provide any clear idea of the parking lots, or of the assembly areas leading up to the starting point. Runners were told to report at the 'venue' at 6 am, and then waved into enclosures to wait until 7:30 am. With nothing to keep them occupied through the dark, wet and cold morning many of the youngsters -- most of them with Delhi Police t-shirts -- got their cheap thrills by hooting and whistling at women runners in the adjacent enclosure.
The running finally started late, without any countdown or announcements. A near stampede ensued through the narrow exits. Limbs crashing against limbs until the runners stumbled out onto the open roads.
The whoops and enthusiasm diminished significantly once the crowds moved past the TV cameras and the display screens. At the first water-station a few kilometers away, there was a scramble for bottles. Teenagers hoarded up bottles and then tossed them away on the running tracks. Down the road, at the first tea-stall near the parliament another crowd of 'runners' stopped by for a chai, a few patties and a samosa before deciding that was better to walk arm-in-arm with friends. So what if they obstruct other runners?
All those who managed to complete the half-marathon and the full marathon were greeted at the finish line by folks trying to market their own sports events ('join the obstacle race next Sunday!'). Inside the enclosures, drinking water canisters were strewn in the mud, safety pins were carelessly removed from the bibs and tossed away, much to the agony of those who had to remove their shoes.
The final scene of chaos was played out at the counters where the participants had to hand in their electronic tags and exchange it for a 'goodies bag' and a medal. After all the trouble, what did the 'goodies bag' contain? - Nothing! :(
The least I expected to find after running 21 km, was a packet of biscuits or a juice tetrapak or a fruit. Why on earth were the organizers handing out empty plastic bags marked 'Mawana Marathon 2013'??
I guess its just one of the many unanswered questions for a shoddy athletic event organized by sugar barons who have perhaps never ever stepped into a pair of running shoes.
* Point no.20 of the 'Instructions for Marathon Runners' said, "Participation certificates...can be obtained by logging on to www.mawanamarathon.com after three days of the marathon". More than seven days later there is nothing on this site. Is this a case for the consumer courts?
* 4 March 2013: The results are finally out. URL - http://www.racetecresults.com/Results.aspx?CId=16394&RId=9
- Uttar Pradesh's Arvind Kumar Yadav emerged victorious in the men's category, while Nilam Maruti Kadam won the women's title