LAUSANNE, November 11, 2017 - On 13 November 2016, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was on the start line leading the Beirut Marathon, but on 12 November 2017, the Lebanese people will run for him.
When a record 45,000 people fill the streets of Lebanese capital Beirut on Sunday for the 15th edition of BLOM Bank Beirut Marathon, they will have one question in their minds: where is Hariri?
Yes, you read it right.
It has been exactly one week since the Lebanese people heard anything from their Prime Minister Saad Hariri who announced his shock resignation on live television from Saudi Arabia last Saturday. Since then, the rest of the government and the nation have been waiting for his return to Lebanon, without knowing of his whereabouts.
Because of the highly unusual situation, Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for participants of Beirut’s famed marathon to run for that cause tomorrow. In front of a delegation of the Beirut Marathon Association (BMA) at the Presidential Palace, Aoun said: “Let Beirut Marathon tomorrow be a patriotic protest of sports in solidarity with our Prime Minister Hariri and his return to his country.”
In the past 15 years, only rarely have there been times when the Beirut Marathon took place in ‘normal’ circumstances in the land of Cedars, without political or security concerns, yet this was never an obstacle for BMA president May El-Khalil, but rather an opportunity to send a message of peace to the world.
Addressing the president, she said: “We came today, a group of Lebanese and foreign people with athletes from different nationalities to tell the world that we are ready for the big day and that we are a strong people from whom no one will be able to strip its will of life, its dignity, its unity and its pride of being Lebanese.”
She added: “For the past 15 years, BMA has written chapters of success and put Lebanon on the international map and proved that we are able to gather all the participants under the slogan of “Love and Peace” and that Beirut Marathon is able to change our lives and that sports can contribute in building a unified community.”
For this same reason, and for the first time ever, LBCI TV, the official broadcaster of the marathon for the past 15 years, announced that it would give the free rights to air the biggest annual sporting event of the country to all Lebanese channels tomorrow after the President of Republic called for the nation to run under the slogan of “The Return of our Prime Minister”, a cause that has united the Lebanese people and its politicians, from different parties, even though those who are politically against Hariri’s own party.
Last year’s edition of the Marathon went ahead just three weeks after the election of a new Lebanese President after two years of political deadlock and amid the garbage crisis that started in July 2015 which transformed the capital into piles of rubbish. And for the past 15 years, Lebanon has seen numerous political upheavals and instability. The nation ran anyway.
Chance for a new record
Athletes from 110 nationalities will take part of this IAAF Silver Label Road Race and this year’s course changes have made the chance for a new record possible. The men’s event record of 2:11:04 was set in 2015 by Kenyan Jackson Limo while the women’s record of 2:29:12 was set in 2014 by Ehtiopia’s Mulahabt Tsega.
Setting a new Beirut Marathon record would earn the winner a further 3000 USD in addition to the prize money of 10,000 USD and should the men’s time come within 2:10:00 and women’s within 2:28:00, the first-place prize will climb to 15,000 USD.
Ten different races will take place this year starting with the 42.195 Km Para-athletes, 42.195 Km marathon, the 42.195 Km Relay Race, the 21.1 Km Half Marathon, the 8 Km Race, the 8 Km Para-athletes, the Fun Run 8 Km, the 5 Km Youth Race, 5 Km Mentally Challenged and the 1 Km Run with Parents. Out of them all, it is the Fun Run 8 Km that gathers the most NGOs and companies and which has always had the biggest number of participants (over 30,000) who wish to raise awareness for a certain cause.
A total of 188 NGOs and 4400 volunteers will contribute in this year’s Beirut Marathon edition, anticipated to be a huge success, when Lebanese will, once again, take the streets of their beloved capital to express solidarity despite the turmoil their country is going through.
Follow Rayane Moussallem on Twitter @RioMoussallem