Updated: 2010-02-04


UNDER INVESTIGATION: The London Marathon, as well as the Great North Run, is under investigation over their relationships with charities.

The London Marathon will celebrate its 30th running in April, in which time the organisers and the runners who have taken part have raised hundreds of millions of pounds for deserving causes.

The Great North Run, a half-marathon between Newcastle and South Shields, also makes much of its charity connections when shown on the BBC each autumn.

But now TV company Blakeway Productions is looking into not only the amount of money that the runners taking part in the events raise for charity, but it is also investigating the sums that the road races manage to make from charities. Blakeway has been commissioned by the Dispatches documentary strand on Channel 4.

Fifteen years ago, Channel 4 was forced to pay-out a record libel settlement of more than £1 million when a previous Dispatches investigation failed to support its allegations of corruption against London Marathon founder Chris Brasher.

This year’s London Marathon, now sponsored by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin, is expected to have more than 40,000 runners. Nearly half of the field will have been entered by charities through “Golden Bond” and “Silver Bond” schemes.

Standard race entries for London cost £32. But under the Golden Bond scheme, charities pay nearly ten times that amount for guaranteed entries in the race.

Around 700 charities pay the London Marathon £7,500 for their Golden Bond, which gives them five guaranteed entries in the race each year for five years. “Silver Bonds”, bought by 1,200 charities, cost £300 for a single entry in one year’s race.

The charities then give their race entries to runners who pledge to raise a minimum amount for the cause – typically £2,000. According to the London Marathon organisers, runners in their 2009 race raised £47.2 million – or more than £1,000 per runner – for charity, making the race “the largest annual fund-raising event in the world”.

The Great North Run operates a similar scheme. The Great North Run charitable trust, set up when BBC athletics commentator Brendan Foster launched the event in 1981 to make donations to sporting causes in the north-east, has now been wound up, having lain dormant for several years, including a period of more than a decade without making any donations.

The London Marathon is a registered charity. It donates its annual cash surplus to sporting causes around the capital, although the amount made available is calculated after the deduction of all the organisation’s running costs.

These include staff salaries and any directors’ bonuses, and the prize money and appearance fees paid to elite athletes such as world record-holder Paula Radcliffe, who is believed to have been paid around £60,000, plus prize money and record bonuses, on each of the three times she has raced from Blackheath to The Mall.

Blakeway’s production team has declined to elaborate on the nature of its programme when approached by the London Marathon, stating only that the race organisers will be afforded a right to reply.

“We have nothing to hide,” Nick Bitel, the chairman of the London Marathon, said.

“We are aware of what Blakeway are doing and we have approached the programme’s producers offering to co-operate in any way,
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Shane Fenton

Lothian Running Club