London Marathon plans 100,000-participant hybrid event and overhauls controversial bond system

Charity

London Marathon organisers have said they plan to stage a “hybrid” version of this year’s event with a record 100,000 runners and announced an overhaul to the controversial bond system, which gives some charities access to guaranteed running places each year.

In a statement today, London Marathon Events said this year’s event, which has already been pushed back from its usual April slot to October because of the coronavirus pandemic, would include 50,000 people running the famous course between Blackheath and The Mall, and the same number completing their own race virtually.

The record number of starters was just under 43,000 in April 2019, the last time the full race was held.

Race director Hugh Brasher said the expansion to create the world’s first 100,000-participant marathon offered “big fundraising potential for charities”.

He said he was “incredibly optimistic” that, with the UK’s vaccine programme underway, the full race would be able to go ahead on 3 October.

He said the hybrid event was the future of the London Marathon and all of his organisation’s events. 

Last year’s London Marathon was pushed back to October and about 45,000 people signed up to run 26.2 miles on their own to raise funds for good causes after it became clear that the usual mass event would not be possible.

“We have been working for many years on plans to increase the London Marathon to 50,000 and the need to reallocate all the runners from the 2020 event accelerated this plan,” he added.

“This devastating pandemic has meant many more people are now understanding the physical and mental health benefits of being active and the new hybrid London Marathon offers great increased fundraising opportunities for charities.”

London Marathon Events, which along with a group of other major event organisers staged the 2.6 Challenge on the day the 2020 London Marathon was originally due to be held, is next month expected to announce the details of another major virtual fundraising event to be held in April this year.  

Bond system review

The marathon’s organisers also announced that they would be reducing the number of places offered by the controversial “golden bond” system, which gives enlisted charities guaranteed running places each year, in an attempt to increase the number of good causes that can access the race.

Golden bonds, which were introduced in the early 1990s, each provide five guaranteed places on a perpetually renewable five-year cycle.

Given the enormous fundraising ability of the London Marathon – it breaks its own record for the highest amount raised for good causes by an annual single-day fundraising event every year – the 629 charities that own the limited number of golden bonds have been unlikely to give them up.

This means it has been extremely difficult for other charities to access guaranteed places.

London Marathon Events said today that the number of running places per bond would be reduced to four from 2026, and the duration of each bond would be reduced to four years.

It also said that silver bonds, which were introduced in 2007 and offer charities one place every five years, would be scrapped in 2025.

Over the coming five years the event will also phase in ballots for two-year and four-year charity places, to offer charities that do not hold golden bonds the opportunity to get involved in the race.

The organisers said today’s announcements would mean that about 2,500 charities would be able to directly take advantage of places in the marathon each year, up from about 1,500 at present.

They also pledged to review the system again in 2029, with any resulting changes brought in from 2034.

“This was an exceptionally complex challenge in a very difficult year and we would like to thank all the charities and others who have worked with us to review the scheme,” said Brasher.

“The London Marathon, for many charities, is the biggest fundraising day of the year, and the demand for places from charities is huge.

“We had to balance our responsibilities towards charities that have worked with us for decades with opening up the London Marathon to other charities for the first time in more than 20 years.

“We believe that our new scheme does that and gives our existing long-standing charity partners certainty on places up to 2033.”

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