Sixty-four-year-old Brackenfell-based distance runner and grandfather of two, William Christian Swartbooi, enters his second term as Two Oceans Marathon NPC Chairperson and his 10th year on the board. Being familiar with athletic trends, he is optimistic that the historic ultra-marathon will once again become one of the country and continent’s premier road races.
Twenty-six runners started the first Two Oceans Marathon in 1970, following which the race grew rapidly, gaining international ultra-marathon gold label status and attracting 34 000 participants in 2019. Importantly for the regional economy, nearly half of those participants came from outside of Western Cape and of those 3000 were international runners.
The Two Oceans Marathon has been through turbulent times in recent years, due to a combination of factors, including the COVID pandemic and significant governance challenges. But the signs are positive that the event, which is listed as one of the ‘seven jewels’ in Cape Town’s mega-event programme, has turned the corner following several challenging years.
“It won’t be about going back to what it was,” Swartbooi cautions. “We can’t go back as the world is now a completely different place. But I’m confident we can once again focus on the event itself – the ultra-marathon and half-marathon – rather than the many peripherals which have recently distracted us.”
Swartbooi does not shrink from acknowledging that a range of governance and legal issues and executive management challenges have beset Two Oceans Marathon in recent years but is confident that these are a thing of the past.
For Swartbooi, it is important that each board member grasps the essentials of what it means to be elected to serve on the board of directors. As a result, a newly designed induction programme for the incoming seven new board members was arranged. “We have seven new board members, and the induction covered a range of governance and good practice issues to guide their term of office.”
Looking ahead, Swartbooi is conscious of the changing sporting sponsorship landscape post-COVID. “We host one of Africa’s biggest mass events and it’s important to have clear goals for the future and an understanding of how we are going to achieve them,” Swartbooi emphasises.
“We would never want to lose our name to a title sponsor – Two Oceans Marathon is our primary selling point. But we need to be conscious of reflecting Cape Town and the Western Cape as our destination and we are looking at the best way to do that. As an international mass event, we are an important component of our city and region’s destination marketing programme and Wesgro have been assisting us with these marketing aspects.”
An important component of building partnerships relates to the Two Oceans Marathon Initiative, or TOMI as it is known, and Swartbooi is upbeat about the significant benefit this programme brings to the wider community. “We are fortunate to have previous Two Oceans chair, David Maralack, returning to the board,” said Swartbooi. “He has identified TOMI for his focused involvement, and we look forward to something special for TOMI in the years to come.”
Swartbooi understands the importance of engaging with various communities along the route, not just as a once-off engagement at the time of the race, but on a more permanent basis. “We plan to engage with communities along our route, such as Imizamo Yetu and Masiphumalele. We will be looking to help schools with their athletics programmes. Who knows, maybe there’s a future Two Oceans Marathon champion from those communities!”
Following last year’s difficulties regarding church access, accentuated by the race taking place on Easter Sunday, Swartbooi is looking to build bridges with faith-based organisations. We see the churches and all faith-based institutions as important partners and will certainly get them on board to help with refreshment stations and “gees” along the route next year.”
The resignation of the Race Director and Operations Manager has left a capacity challenge on the one hand but has offered new opportunities on the other. Swartbooi talks optimistically about future options. “The shape of event management at Two Oceans has changed completely. Part of the new board’s brief relates to how we move into the professional era.
“We are conscious of the need to protect our brand and our legacy,” emphasises Swartbooi. “So rather than outsourcing the entire event, we may go the route of bringing on companies for specific aspects where we require expertise.
“With regards to the race director position, we have an opportunity for a fresh look at what we need. Consequently, we appointed Hilton Kearns as the Race Manager on a contractual basis until May 2023.
Swartbooi believes the key for the board is to focus first on their core elements – the ultra-marathon and the half-marathon – and then assess the desirability and capacity of bringing back other events, such as the trail races and the popular international friendship run (IFR). “The IFR will not likely revert to a Waterfront venue but will take our international athletes to another part of Cape Town, potentially to offer something unique such as a township experience, should it be brought back”.
As the entries continue to fly in and have already reached close to capacity in the two main events, the prospects are there for a great race for all concerned, with the traditional, unchanged route over ‘Chappies’, more spectators along the route, greater musical entertainment and a ‘bring back the gees’ finish to allow fans to watch the final moments of what promises to be a show-stopper.