21 Sep 2020

Auckland Marathon faces uncertainty of bridge repairs, Covid-19

From Checkpoint, 5:21 pm on 21 September 2020

Auckland Marathon organisers are betting on the event going ahead, despite the double dilemma of uncertainty around Covid alert levels and Harbour Bridge repairs potentially forcing changes to the iconic route. 

The country, excluding Auckland, moves to level 1 tonight, while the supercity shifts to level 2 on Wednesday at 11.59pm, with a decision on a further drop on 5 October. 

The Auckland Marathon, scheduled for 1 November, can only be run at level 1. 

But the marathon organiser, The Ironman Group, said hundreds of thousands of dollars in event-related costs were due to be paid before the next crucial decision on alert levels. 

Ironman Oceania director Dave Beeche told Checkpoint that while the change in alert levels had been promising, organising the event had become a massive gamble. 

"It still makes planning this incredibly difficult, and we've got to commit to $100,000 worth of expenditure in the next two weeks before the next deadline on 5 October," he said. "We're really in a holding pattern so you're hoping that things are going to continue to move in the right direction."

He said the gamble they were making on these big costs showed the need for a new framework for events under Covid-19 alert levels.

"All our suppliers, the massive amounts of infrastructure and people that go on behind an event of this scale, they can't just organise it on two weeks' notice. They need commitment so we've got to organise our own staff and equipment," he said.

He said a Covid-19 management framework would be helpful for organising such events and other countries had worked under similar conditions. 

"We delivered an event in Queensland two weeks ago under an approved Covid management plan, that put in place physical distancing, hygiene, contact tracing, screening when people arrived at check-in."

He also pointed to the Kew Garden Place which took place in the UK over the weekend. 

"I think what we need to do is actually sit back and go you know what what are the factors that need to be taken into account with these events," he said.

"Like the Kew Gardens race in the UK for example, there's a very clear guideline on how runners are to behave during the event, the minimum distance of 1.5 metres per athlete, they stretched the start waves out over a much longer period of time, they redesigned their entire aid stations so that people weren't slobbering over the drinks and had a whole lot of hygiene guidelines around spitting and things like that."

The organiser was still trying to judge whether they would be able to hold on until 5 October to make a call on whether the marathon could go ahead, Beeche said. 

"I think we probably will, but we've just got to finish up our risk assessment on that," he said. "But then we will be hanging on every word on 5 October."

If the decision was made to move to Auckland to level 1 on 7 October, it would be "all systems go" for the Ironman Group. 

Postponing was not an option, because finding dates for such a large event was incredibly challenging, he said.

"You need to be locked in, at least six months down the track and, you know, then you're almost sent to the next edition of the event next October," he said. "So, now if we can't deliver it on 1 November, then the event will be cancelled."

The damaged Harbour Bridge was also a potential challenge for the marathon, but Beeche said there had always been a contingency plan in place for a scenario connected to the bridge, so it would not affect whether the event could proceed or not. 

"The bridge is a pretty cool part of the race for sure, so while it will be disappointing, I think anyone who's been training for these races and with the number of event cancellations that have been out there, I think people will just be grateful that the event can actually take place, if we manage to get it up with the Covid regulations."

Despite the many potential complications, Beeche and The Ironman Group were remaining positive. 

"In the meantime, I think we're probably going to continue to plan as if the race is going to go ahead and just look to mitigate our financial risk over the next couple of weeks as we can."