Renowned international marathons that are annually staged in different cities around the world such as Paris, New York, Beijing, and London to name a few regularly attracts more than 20,000 participants. Further highlighting the potential to which an international marathon has in boosting tourism. Rwanda intends to position itself as a tourist destination and the question that came to mind during the Kigali marathon was whether Rwanda is really ready to host such international events.
The recently concluded Kigali International Peace Marathon that took place on Sunday 19th May 2013 attracted more than 500 participants from 24 countries worldwide. The marathon was divided into three groups; the half marathon, the full marathon, and finally the 5 Km race for those who wanted to run for fun. Typically, Kenyans and Ethiopians occupied the podium at the end of the race.Rwandans who came in first positions were 4th and 5th for men and 5th position for women in the half marathon race.
As a local spectator I was particularly intrigued to know if the organizers of the Kigali International Peace Marathon had met the expectations of international participants. Directly after the race, I decided to approach various international participants to gain some insights on their experiences and thoughts regarding the organization of the marathon. I have to admit that I received mixed responses that demonstrated that Rwanda still has a lot to do to stage international events in order to meet the expectations of our visitors. I am not intending to paint a rosy picture however I will be pointing out a number of concerns that were raised by various competitors. I believe that these concerns need to be seriously addressed in order to attract more international visitors and ultimately making such event more successful.
Before and during the marathon, one would wonder if the city is really going to host an international marathon due to the lack of advertising. Mme Catherine, a 51 year old participant from France who had formally taken part in the 2005 Kigali marathon was expecting to see improvements in the organization of the event. She was surprised to see that there were no billboards around the city indicating that an international marathon is going to take place in Kigali.
“I don’t understand because when they talk about an international marathon, they should secure enough resources for a good preparation. They needed to publicize the marathon and have a website that provided detailed information. “For example this year, I did not know that they changed the marathon course”. Despite these let downs, Mme Catherine is happy that at least every year there is a marathon in Rwanda and appreciated the way an ambulance quickly came to her rescue when she got an injury. She further went on to urge the ministry of sports to seriously prepare and organize the marathon to meet international standards.
The Kigali international peace marathon attracted many athletes from Kenya, a country that is famous for long distance races. Elisabeth Ebenyo from Lodwar in northern Kenya finished 8th place. She found out about the Kigali marathon through her friend. She protested that during the race, some athletes were misled by volunteers and missed the way. “Next time they have to take care of runners, we are just visitors that need to be shown the way otherwise we easily get lost”, said Elisabeth.
Rebecca Nakuwa, a compatriot to Elisabeth Ebenyo completed in 10th position, although she was satisfied by her performance she was disappointed to know that her finish time had not been recorded. “When we come to take part in the marathon we are more interested to improve our time and when officials don’t tell you the time you used at the end of the marathon it is disappointing.”
Rene Wallesh, a 40 year old athlete from Germany learnt about Kigali marathon when he was in Kenya visiting his wife’s family. “Rwanda is not yet a famous country for tourism, it is the marathon that pushed me to come here”, said the German. He was full of praises for Rwandans. “People here are friendly and honest; it is not like in Kenya where everybody is trying to get money from the white man”. However when it comes to the marathon itself, the German observed that it was not complete- a view shared by Maciej Rakowski from Poland. They commented that it was a pity that organizers lost three to four kilometers.
After speaking with a variety of international athletes, I turned my attention to the organizers of the marathon and had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Nkezabo Jean Damascene, the President of the Rwandan federation of atletism.In responding to requests made by international athletes, He noted that the organizers haven’t yet secured enough funds to advertise the marathon effectively. He pointed out that technically organizers would like to see everybody involved in the marathon to know exactly what to do in order to meet the needs of the participants as well as the public.
He went on to call on the attention of the Rwandan public that hasn’t yet grasped the true meaning of the marathon. “The public in Rwanda thinks that the marathon is something for professional athletes. But marathons unite people who like sports and enjoy running. You don’t have to compete in the marathon; you can run or walk just for the sake of fun and for your health.” said Mr. Nkezabo.
When it comes to sponsorship, it is a pity that the Kigali International Peace Marathon still lacks the support of sponsors. The private sector in partnership with the public sector should seek funds to support this event that has the potential to annually bring in thousands of visitors into the country.It is my hope that by next year’s Kigali marathon, great measures would have been taken to implement the changes needed and meet international standards. It is these changes that will contribute to an increase of tourism levels in our country, the land of a thousand hills.