Aug 12, 2011

Councillor Eats Crow-e

Cllr Michael Crowe acknowledged to the Galway Advertiser that he was " mistaken" in claims he made about the Galway City Marathon organisers. His comments last week were proven to be completely untrue when a local paper was provided with detailed proof of the voluntary donation of thousands of euros to local sports clubs, individuals, national federations and charities.

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Crowe acknowledges that he was mistaken about the donations made by the race organisers

By Declan Varley

Much has been written and broadcast over the past week on the impasse between the City Council and the organisers of the now-cancelled Galway City Marathon, which was due to take place at the end of this month and draw a vast number of runners to the the city. However, among the most hurtful barbs thrown was the allegation by former mayor Michael Crowe that the organisers did not honour a commitment to donate marathon funds to sporting clubs and athletes in the city which has been angrily rejected by the organisers and proven to be untrue.

Documentary evidence seen by the Advertiser and discussions held with various clubs and athletes has shown that many athletes, clubs and charities have benefitted from the generosity of the organisers Richard and Paul Donovan, contrary to Cllr Crowe’s claim.

In last week’s Advertiser, Cllr Crowe made the allegation that the organisers did not “honour” an agreement to pay €2 per marathon and half marathon athlete to the City Sports Partnership. The Advertiser has since learned that the Donovans not only honoured this arrangement, but paid a large multiple of the amount to Sports Partnership-registered clubs and athletes, donating more than €20,000 in total locally.

In addition, the newspaper has learned that €3,000 was given to GOAL charity, €3,000 to UltraRunning Ireland and €2,000 to Irish Schools Athletics.

Richard Donovan has told the Advertiser that the donation of money to the Sports Partnership was not even a prerequisite for operating last year’s Marathon event as iconcluded by Cllr Crowe. “He seems to want to take credit for the initiative. However, it was a voluntary undertaking by us and we simply informed the Council in advance. On reading Cllr Crowe’s statement to the Advertiser, one would be of the mistaken opinion that it was an initiative instigated by the Council and a requirement of operating the event. That’s also absolutely incorrect.”

But Richard Donovan has also said the untrue allegation that he did not “honour” such a promise was simply the lowest he could have anticipated, “even from Cllr Crowe”, and was clearly designed to damage his reputation.

“During the past week, there were people on the street assuming we didn’t make a promised donation to a club or charity. Cllr Crowe decided to maliciously implant this falsehood in people’s minds and remained unapologetic for his clearly defamatory comments. Logically, if there was ever such a question hanging over our heads as he stated, he would have asked us directly or simply researched properly,” he added

Mr Donovan said that Cllr Crowe’s statement also enraged certain athletes as he supports some individual athletes privately at various levels. “However, I have always specifically asked any athlete not to bother mentioning the support publicly and to simply concentrate on their own athletics endeavours instead of feeling compelled to endorse a sponsor. That request also left those athletes in a strange position in the past week where they would want to voice their disquiet and contact papers but I would have asked them not to have their names associated with the controversy.”

In a lengthy statement last night, Cllr Crowe told The Advertiser that he is happy to withdraw the allegations that the funding commitment was not met.

“It was my understanding that Galway City Marathon had agreed to donate €2 per participant last year, to the Galway City Sports Partnership as a gesture of goodwill. The organisers now inform me that they gave a donation directly to a number of clubs who are registered with the partnership and who volunteered to help out with last year’s event. I am happy to acknowledge this,” he said.

“Let me state that there is no-one more disappointed than I that the there will be no marathon in the city this year. I believe and have done for many years that Galway, as Ireland’s third largest city should have its own annual Marathon. In my capacity as Mayor of Galway I was delighted to attend and fully support the launch of last year’s inaugural Galway City Marathon and complimented all those involved for finally bringing this very important event to Galway.

“However a number of problems emerged during the actual running of the marathon last year and it was important that these mistakes were not repeated,” he said, before outlining a timeline of dealings between the two sides.

Richard Donovan has organised dozens of marathons including in the most extreme environments of the world. His North Pole and Antarctic Ice Marathons are consistently ranked in the top 10 of the world, alongside the likes of New York and Boston; he was sought by UK Athletics to be Race Director of the Commonwealth Championships at ultrarunning and has accepted the position.

His brother Paul has competed in two Olympic Games, won multiple US collegiate and Irish running titles, and a silver medal at the World Indoor Championships, a year when he was ranked Number 1 in the world at 3,000 metres indoor. He has worked as an athletes’ agent for Olympic Champions and promoted high profile athletics events in the USA.

The pair brought the Home Nations 100km to Salthill in 2009 and the event was considered the best organised in the history of the competition by all competing nations. There were no traffic issues encountered despite an 11-hour shutdown of the promenade section of road in Salthill.

Galway City Marathon 2010 witnessed elite milers, marathon and ultra marathon athletes in the city, which resulted in the fastest road mile in Ireland in 2010, the second fastest marathon time (next to Dublin) and a World 50km Final championship best. Runner’s World, the biggest selling running magazine in the world, declared that the race could ultimately rival Dublin as Ireland’s marathon destination.

One local runner said that every other city would partner with the organisers of such a major event, at least providing various ancillary support and services, but the organisers were left to drag the race ‘kicking and screaming’ into the city and to face the wrath of the city for any traffic disruptions.

“It's easy for the Council to do nothing in support of a major race and then stand back and apportion blame for traffic issues, including traffic violations by motorists as reported by a letter to the Advertiser at that time,” said the runner.

According to the organisers, the Council also admitted that a multiple of the amount of traffic expected by them descended on the City that weekend. The Galway Races took place, as well as a car rally, and there was traffic disruption late at night that had nothing to do with the marathon event.

The evidence now shows the organisers were also not out to make a quick buck, but were doing quite the opposite and trying to put the city on the athletics map with a signature marathon that would grow and grow into a significant event on the calendar.

Richard Donovan said he feels that the City Council has behaved badly in the past week. “ It's bad enough that they didn’t support us but I would have appreciated if they didn’t obstruct us and if they didn't make false statements in an attempt to justify what they had done.”

“Unlike any other road running event in Galway, and contrary to the City Council’s claims, we submitted a detailed traffic management plan to the city for the 2011 marathon. A one-loop course would cause minimum traffic disruptions and detailed pacing maps indicated the precise times the first and last runners would reach different sections of road in the city. There were not six-hour closures as suggested by the Council to the media because it was a rolling closure. Most areas of road in the city centre areas would be affected for between 15 minutes to one hour. Moreover, athletes would encounter a section of road that would never be encountered by them again and the road would open up. A professional team of security personnel would marshal the route, which had clearly defined detours.”

According to Mr Donovan, “What bugs me about all of this is that we were instigating this as an investment in the city.”

“Yet, the city council allowed the Streets of Galway 8k to take place on Saturday last with no traffic management plan submitted to them. Athletes ran straight into a bus on the Salmon Weir bridge within a couple of miles of starting. That doesn’t make that race a bad event. In my opinion, it’s a great event, but I expect equal treatment from the council”, says Mr Donovan.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that a City Council transport engineer emailed us on April 8(despite the council agreeing to our dates a year previously and reconfirming them earlier this year), saying “I regret to advise you that the dates noted in your publicity together with the revised start/finish locations in 2011 cannot be accommodated by the City Council”. This was followed by an email from the same engineer on 11 April stating “Ironman is effectively taking over Salthill during the week after your event and this is why your date together with the start/finish locations are a problem.” This in turn was followed by an email from the Director of Services stating that “..the real difficulty is the timing as the Ironman event is on the next week and Salthill will be closed for a number of days.”

Cllr Crowe says that many meetings were held regarding the Ironman event and that he did not show favouritism to one over another.

“When holding any type of event in the city, the council has to have cognizance of all users of the city on that day(s), our residents, our elderly, our disabled, our young, old and everyone in between. This has to be the way, it cannot be any different. And when any individual or group approach me or Galway City Council to hold any type of event, we treat them all the same, work with them all the same but just as importantly we need them to work with us. If this is not forthcoming then difficulties arise and events cannot take place,” Cllr Crowe concluded.

The debate is sure to run and run.

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