Cape Town Marathon off, huge virtual event on – organisers

SA Olympic marathoner, Desmond Mokgobu (pacer, centre) leads the field in the early stages of the 2017 Cape Town Marathon
Supporters cheer on Stephen Mokoka as he races to victory in 2019. This year’s winner will appear on the virtual race app. Photo: Stephen Granger

Organisers have finally confirmed what the running community has anticipated for months – that the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon 2020 event is cancelled. However, the confirmation will give fresh impetus to the unique and equally anticipated virtual event.

The continent’s sole World Athletics Gold-Label marathon will now move from the streets of Cape Town onto the mobile phones of thousands of runners around the globe. A remarkable app developed for the race is helping to ensure the event has all the makings of an inter-continental virtual extravaganza.

South Africa’s Comrades Marathon demonstrated the appetite of runners for virtual racing, with no fewer than 44 000 taking part in the virtual Comrades last weekend. Given the innovative formula being prepared by the Cape Town team, the longer lead-time for preparation and the potential for a greater international reach, there is every likelihood of far wider participation, come race day on 18 October.

“We’re very excited about the way things are taking shape,” said race director, Renee Jordaan. “We are now able to invest all our energy into the virtual race and have already spend many hours perfecting the app, which will bring a “3-D audio experience” to those participating.

“You may be running in a far-off land, but with the cutting-edge technology of the sense-surround Virtual Marathon App bringing you the sights and sounds of the Cape, you will get to enjoy the full race experience.

“From the start-line ceremony, the lighting of the Peace Torch and the promenade sounds of seagulls and crashing ocean waves, to the local crowds and Cape minstrels cheering you on, everything has gone into making it feel like the real thing.

“And your race experience will be further enhanced by real-time tracking of your own run, while you will also be informed of your virtual progress along the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon route.

“And as the race will be run in athletes’ local time zones, participants will be able to challenge their mates elsewhere in the world while they wait for their own race to start. This is the new face of virtual racing – a world first, coming from the heart of the Mother City!

“Another thing making this a unique virtual race is that we will be covering the event live on television.  We are looking to our South African elites running in four or five cities around the country, with television coverage merging them into one great race!”

Nolene Conrad celebrates completing the hugely popular Cape Town Marathon in her best ever time. Photo: Stephen Granger

An announcement on the participation of South African elite marathoners will be made in July, but there is every indication that the Cape Town Marathon field will be one of the strongest ever.  It is unlikely that top distance athletes of the calibre of Stephen Mokoka, Elroy Gelant, Desmond Mokgobu, Gerda Steyn or Nolene Conrad will want to miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Athletics South Africa President Aleck Skhosana said, “Cancelling this year’s edition of the Cape Town Marathon was a difficult decision because it is also home to the ASA Marathon Championships. This is the only World Athletics Gold Label marathon in Africa and it’s an influential nation-builder with a massive economic impact.

“However, the decision had to prioritise the health and safety of all involved, as well as the lives of all South Africans.”

Sanlam Cape Town Marathon Chairman, Francois Pienaar, calls the cancellation a sad and disappointing moment. “This decision did not come easy, but was one that had to be made after exhausting all our options. The reality is that we simply cannot risk the health and well-being of our participants, volunteers, supporters and stakeholders.

“We are grateful for the ongoing support of our sponsors, partners and service providers who share our disappointment, but remain committed to ensuring that we transform the continent’s greatest marathon into a spectacular global virtual marathon of which we can all be proud.”

Sanlam Cape Town Marathon Ambassadors extradinaire, Francois Pienaar and Elana van Zyl. Picture: Stephen Granger

Sydney Mbhele, Chief Executive of Brand at Sanlam, the race’s headline sponsor, commended the organising team for taking the appropriate steps during these challenging times.

“At Sanlam, we fully support this decision. We feel deeply for all those people whose lives are positively impacted by the race each year. We are working alongside our partners to ensure that we are still able to generate as much economic activity as possible from the virtual race to allow us to continue to support our charities this year.

“In particular, we have made a pledge that CANSA (Cancer Association of South Africa), our biggest beneficiary, will continue to benefit from the race this year, no matter its format. We encourage runners to … add a sense of meaning to their participation this year.

“Make this the year you Run For Something – whether it is to beat your personal record, celebrate your training journey during a challenging lockdown, or to raise money for a good cause like CANSA.”

The City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, JP Smith, added, “The country, along with the rest of the world, is faced with a serious crisis which has put a stop to mass participation events indefinitely. This is important in safeguarding the health and safety of participants, spectators as well as officials working in the events hosted in our beautiful city. 

“The Sanlam Cape Town Marathon is one of the most important spectacles on the city’s annual events calendar and we remain committed to supporting Africa’s only Gold-label marathon.  We look forward to hosting the race again in 2021.”

Jordaan added that entrants will have the option to receive a full refund or donate their entry fee to charity. “All donated entry fees will be distributed between the Peninsula School Feeding Association and Community Chest of the Western Cape to support the increased social needs during the pandemic.”

The refund and donations process will be facilitated through the entrants’ entry profile on Webtickets.  Affected entrants will receive detailed instructions in this regard in the coming days.


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