Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Race in Suwon denies prize money to Kenyans

After a lengthy hiatus, AWYHIGTC is back for its second decade. Thank you for your patronizing patronage.

A few months ago, as part of my mandate to pay the race registration fees for anyone who has met an Olympic track and field standard, I decided to sign up a Kenyan runner for a half marathon in Suwon that had a nice prize purse. I even recommended the race to someone else I know who would have been competitive for the money. Eventually, I regretted venturing into the world of amateur sport amateur agency, mostly because it seemed to involve me making a two-hour trip to Suwon, and then this whole thing fell apart.

A number of Kenyans, some of them possibly including runners living and working in Korea, tried to enter this race without elite bibs, trying to win the money available to amateurs. This apparently provoked an outcry that went all the way to the "top", according to the person I spoke to on the phone, the result being that the race put out a statement affirming its status as a "pure festival for runners and clubs" and declaring that "foreign nationals who enter the race for the purpose of winning prize money" would be excluded from the awards. Those who win money without trying to do so, however, would probably also be excluded from the awards. Part of the reasoning was that the prize money was aimed at developing the sport in Korea.

An argument can be made, though I don't think it's a good one, that outsiders, usually Kenyans, who travel around a country running road races for small amounts of money kill the sport, though I don't know how good it is for the sport to financially reward comparatively mediocre performances. Many races work around this by having domestic prize money, including major races in Korea, America and Canada. This was already the case in this race, which has separate prize money for international and domestic elites (in typical Korean fashion, they're actually competing in separate categories, it seems). This is actually a matter of not allowing anyone without Korean citizenship to win amateur prize money and doing so two weeks before the race, after registration is closed, which is pretty much the worst conceivable way of managing a terrible decision.

I would love to name this race and its major sponsor, which was behind this fiasco, but a healthy fear of Korean libel laws keeps me from doing so.