Sadly, A Very Public Failure

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In the light of last weekend’s successful London Marathon I particularly feel for the event organisers behind the Sheffield Half-Marathon only the previous weekend. They are all volunteers and whilst they have a lot of experience of this event, they appear to have got themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.

It is incredibly difficult when one us involved with a voluntary or community event and the money runs out or you just know there isn’t enough. From what I understand, this is what happened to the organisers of the Sheffield half-marathon where they failed to pay their water supplier. This problem then created a number of consequences:

  • cancellation of the event – which in turn causes us to question the governance of the project. Why did the trustees/directors not know that there were insufficient funds? It’s not just in relation to this supplier – what about all of the other people and companies involved? Was the organisation trading insolvently?
  • reputation destruction – not only of the event and of the directors/managers but of Water Direct and everyone else involved. By one epic failure, they have destroyed trust in the event by all stakeholders and trust in related suppliers. It may even damage the reputation of fundraising sports events in general…
  • financial losses – for the half-marathon, for the participants and for the charities. Whilst they may have started out wanting to do something beneficial for the community of Sheffield and the wider UK, it will certainly take some time for then to recoup losses and recover sufficiently to attempt this again.
  • communication chaos – with no-one really seeming to know what was happening, it was inevitable that chaos would ensue. Some runners decided to run anyway, potentially putting themselves at risk and opening up the organisers to legal action should there be an accident. It’s not just about telling people that it’s cancelled, it’s about making the decision quickly enough and then making sure that it is communicated as comprehensively and clearly as possible. Having said that, it’s not always possible to do this when the budgets are so stretched that you can’t even afford a megaphone…


The big problem is that they chose not to pay a supplier who was crucial to meeting their legal obligations and by their understandable withdrawal from the event, the lack of experience of the volunteer leadership was exposed. I wonder what the situation would have been if Water Direct had given the Sheffield Half-Marathon better credit terms?

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