Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Hands off the London Marathon, Branson

I have watched most of the 28 London Marathons. It winds around my house and my family and neighbours invariably make a bit of a day of it. My Mum does the same on the route up by Blackheath Rugby Club. "Marathon Breakfasts" are normally the order of the day and we usually end up having an early drink and a bit of a party at lunchtime.

It's the one major sporting event that us south-east Londoners have always been able to claim as largely our own. We have the start and the first half of the race takes runners through south-east London before they cross the first bridge on the Thames and back out through east London where runners can look back across the river before turning back and the grander finish through Westminster. When I watch the race, I am always reassured that so many one-time entrants are getting a first-hand view of the London in which ordinary Londoners live, not just the West End, the City or the sights.

I am raging, therefore, that Sir Richard Branson's first act as the new "Virgin" sponsor of the race from 2010, has the audacity to suggest via the "London" Evening Standard that readers should write in to suggest a more glamourous route than "east" London. In their usual ignorance, you know that by "east" they mean south-east as well as east (I mean the Standard as well as Branson). Our own Darryl has hit the nail on the head here already and I am pleased that Andrew Gilligan is also rattling the sabre over this.

Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin vehicle have a long history of a lack of "stickability." With the exception of Virgin Atlantic, most of his businesses have been dropped or sold on - think records, condoms, cola, vodka, megastores etc. The London Marathon organisers will do well to be wary of Branson and his marketing gloss because I suspect he might not give them anything like the support and longevity they had from Flora. Branson may, at some point, claim his Blackheath birthright as justification. In the meantime, the testimonies of the first of those to comment on the Standard's website sum it up perfectly for me...

"It's not the London landmarks that make it special, it's the London people. I ran it this year and the highlight wasn't the Mall or Parliament Square, it was miles 3 to 5 (through Woolwich). Mr Branson, at least experience it once as it is - and then see whether you still want to change it"

- Martin Kelly, Edinburgh

"There's nothing wrong with the route, unless you simply can't stand to run amongst the Common People for a few miles in a four-hour race. And if you can't, maybe London life just isn't for you."

- Martin, London

Let's just hope it's all marketing mischief. If it's not, it needs fighting off.

No comments: