Marathon highlights why Turkey can’t host Olympics

Marathon highlights why Turkey can’t host Olympics

“I don’t run in the Istanbul marathon. It really isn't an athlete-friendly event. Just trying to reach the starting point is a hassle, while trying to get to your house after the finish is another hassle,” a friend told me.

I participated in the Vodafone Istanbul marathon for the first time and ran 10 km. Indeed, problems started even before the marathon began, with a lot of complaints about the location of the place where participants were to pick up their chip, (without which you cannot participate in the marathon). It was so far away from the city center (closer to the airport) that those who went early to get their chips and get back to work in the days before the marathon could not even do so because distributions only started at 10:30 a.m! How about sending it via cargo and charging it to the athlete? Are the numbers too high? How about providing this service to those who make early registrations?

Getting to the start, which was located at the entrance of the Bosphorus Bridge on the Anatolian side, was also problematic due to insufficient transport facilities. On the European side, buses to the starting point left from only two locations (Taksim Square and Sultanahmet), which meant that thousands piled up in these two locations. As there were not enough buses, some were late getting to the starting point. Why not have five or six points of departure on each side?

It is one of the main privileges of the marathon to run on a bridge that connects Asia to Europe, so it is normal for the entrance of the bridge to have a limited capacity for the thousands who came to run. Crowds were not the problem. Rather, some people had difficulty just finding the starting points (as the starting points for 10 km and for 15 km were at different locations). Why not have more officials and signs showing the way to the starting points, to the buses where people could leave their bags, to the toilets?

Running is a serious business

What's more, I can understand that some people use this occasion to enjoy a walk on the bridge, to take selfies at the point where East meets West, to make marriage proposals - but these should be done during what is called “the people’s run,” which comes after the professional or amateur athletes start running. It seems that some shrewd people registered for the 10 km or 15 km thinking they would be less crowded. That makes the life of amateur runners very difficult, as it becomes very difficult to run! Some participants want to test how they perform; some want to increase their performance each year. For this, it is essential that you run without zigzagging. But in the Istanbul Marathon it was impossible to run in a straight line. Those walking non-stop were the most innocent; many others were stopping to take pictures, and I even saw two people playing backgammon in the middle of the bridge.

“We had a difficult start as people were walking in the opposite direction,” said Megan Seiboldt from London. Only in Turkey!

“We ran escorting a blind athlete. It was so difficult to go forward. We could only manage by having one person ahead, two people on the sides, and one behind to get people out of the way,” Esra Karaosmanoğlu told me.

Some may prefer to walk during the marathon after a while. That’s understandable, but they should be warned both before and during the marathon to leave the left side to runners. The state runs thousands of ads on TV, why not dedicate some of them to give early warnings? Why not have officials in the field to tell people to make way for the runners, or to tell them that they can’t play backgammon during the 10 and 15 km runs?

There were also very few official signs on the road to direct participants. You could miss water stations because there were no signs ahead. I was told toward the end that people could not find water and even the few signs showing the way to the finish line were being taken away by officials before the official end of the race. Meanwhile, the finishing point for the 10 and 15 km distance courses was also total chaos, with queues in front of the buses to redeem the marathon bags.

“We really enjoyed running in this scenic city. But yes, the organization leaves a lot to be desired. Why aren’t there more volunteers,” asked Seiboldt, who recently ran the Chicago marathon. Indeed, where were the volunteers? This question should be addressed not only by the Istanbul Municipality but also by the sponsors.

But all these things can be alleviated. The reason why I say Turkey cannot win the Olympic Games hosting rights pertains not to organizational skills, but to the spirit of sports. Turkey needs to invest more in the mindset, not only in the physical infrastructure of sports.

“The biggest problem is that the locals are not on the streets to support us,” says Beril Kırcı. This is a huge disadvantage if you want to run the marathon.

“In other marathons you have thousands of people in the streets cheering the participants on; in Turkey it is a lonely run,” said Karaosmanoğlu.

To support runners by cheering and to help for the organization, more volunteers could be mobilized by the municipality and the sponsor companies. To attract the attention of the locals and again support runners, there could be more musical bands in the streets. Why not mobilize high school orchestras or youth music groups?

It is not enough to brag about being the only marathon in the world crossing from one continent to the other. The slogan for the marathon was, “Run for the love of Istanbul,” but it is a bit difficult to love Istanbul like this.