Sports clubs sweat over marathon rival

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An American company will be staging Oslo’s first “Rock ‘n’ Roll” half-marathon next year, complete with live bands and cheerleaders. Norway’s sports clubs aren’t welcoming the new event, fearing they’ll lose out on income and runners for the races they organize.

Runners taking part in a Rock 'n' roll Marathon and Half Marathon in San Diego, California. The event is organized by American company Competitor Group, which claims to have "revolutionized the running industry ... combining entertainment with running in a big way." PHOTO: competitorgroup.com

Runners taking part in a Rock ‘n’ roll Marathon and Half Marathon in San Diego, California. The event is organized by American company Competitor Group, which claims to have “revolutionized the running industry … combining entertainment with running in a big way.” PHOTO: competitorgroup.com

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Oslo Half Marathon will be held in the capital next June. Its organizer, the San Diego-based Competitor Group, already hosts marathons and other sports events across the US, as well as in several cities in Europe.

Local sports organizations in Oslo are skeptical, even though the Oslo Marathon is breaking new participation records this  year. “The running market in Oslo is already saturated,” Tony Isaksen, leader of Norwegian sports club Vidar, told newspaper Aftenposten recently. “We are very worried that this arrangement will mean that less people will run the Oslo Marathon.”

Vidar organizes the annual Oslo Marathon, along with the two other sports clubs in the so-called “Bislett Alliance,” BUL and Tjalve. The Bislett Alliance also organizes of the venerable Bislett Games.

Isaksen says that the Bislett Alliance is totally dependent on the income generated from the current Oslo Marathon, and that allowing a commercial American organizer that’s driven by profits to  stage a rival running event in the capital, will destroy the basic revenue for the leading clubs. He didn’t seem to be facing any major problems attracting participants this year, though, with early sign-ups leaving the marathon sold out more than two months in advance and related events attracting record numbers as well.

‘Bounce in their step’
Runners in the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons “get a special bounce in their step, with live bands playing music at every mile along the course, interspersed with high school cheerleading squads providing major motivation,” according to the Competitor Group’s website. After the race there is a finish-line festival, followed by a headliner concert.

The Norwegian Athletics Association (Norges Friidrettsforbund or NFIF) defends its decision to approve the Rock ‘n’ Roll Oslo Half Marathon, and sees no problem in working  with a commercial company. “We’re going ahead with this because we believe that the association, and the clubs, can earn well on it, and because the race will not carry any economic risk for us,” said Kjetil Hildeskor, secretary-general of the NFIF.

NFIF’s former general-secretary, Ivar Egeberg, will be the organizer of next year’s Rock ’n’ Roll event, which also has raised objections from the clubs. Isaksen is upset that  NFIF recently said that athletics needed to protect its own values, and retain control, but has now decided to work with one of the world’s biggest commercial actors in the running business.

‘Need new impulses’
“Competitor Group will go for the same sponsors as us,” Isaksen told Aftenposten. He says that the company also tried to get into the running market in Stockholm and Copenhagen, but those cities said no, to protect their own clubs.  Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons are currently held in Nice, Madrid, Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon and St Petersburg in addition to many US cities.

Egeberg denies any intrigue behind the new arrangement. He argues that more such events will generate more activity, and that the Rock ‘n’ Roll run will be a bit different and can inspire new groups.

“We need new impulses and ideas, we can’t just sit here with our ski caps on,” he told Aftenposten.

Views and News from Norway/Elizabeth Lindsay

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