If you were to ask anyone who aspires to run a marathon, London Marathon would probably be right at the top of the list.
It is widely seen as one of the best marathons in the world, and which is why in 2018 it attracted over 300,000 applications for the ballot, and saw around 40,000 take on the 26.2 miles on 22nd April.
People from all over the world travel to take part and soak up the atmosphere. The wide range of costume’s and fancy dress entertaining the huge crowds along the route only add to that. But there is another side to the London Marathon, a side that is not so inclusive, or pleasant on the eye.
Imagine having completed 31 marathons, but to be consistently told by London Marathon that you are not welcome at their event, and that they won’t even talk to you about it.
We are Team Kerr, an assisted running family from Northern Ireland. We are Dad (David) and Mum (Sandra), and we push our son Aaron, who has complex needs in his custom built running wheelchair. Together we have taken part in 112 events, including those 31 marathons, all whilst promoting inclusion and disability awareness. We have a 100% safety record and testimonials from numerous race directors complementing us on our professionalism and attitude, but for the last 3 years London Marathon have refused to let us enter.
The reason they have given us is that as Aaron cannot complete the marathon under his own power, then he cannot be a competitor. We have asked for Aaron to take part as a non-competitor, but that has also been refused.
They have said that a competitor can be helped to an upright position, but that they cannot be helped in a forward motion, quoting IAAF Rule 144.3(f)
"144.3 For the purpose of this Rule, the following examples shall be considered assistance, and are therefore not allowed: .... (f) Receiving physical support from another athlete (other than helping to recover to a standing position) that assists in making forward progression in a race."
Not only have we taken part in other IAAF events, we also have confirmation from the IAAF that this wouldn’t apply if Aaron was deemed a non-competitor, and we also have numerous examples of this rule being not only broken, but exploited by London Marathon when it suits their PR agenda. In 2017, with huge media coverage, a competitor helped another competitor back to his feet and then supported him the last few hundred yards over the line, all with the help of an official London Marathon marshal. Whilst we view this as a true act of sportsmanship and applaud those involved, the truth of the matter is that if London are happy to ignore the rule in these circumstances then why use it too exclude us. Further salt was then poured onto the wound when these two runners were used at the official launch of the 2018 event when they should have been disqualified the previous year, if VLM had followed their own rules.
We understand that what we do is different, and that Race organisers may have some concerns and questions, which is why, this year, we asked to open a dialogue with VLM so that we could address these and find a way forward, but even that seems a stretch to far, with nothing coming back but obstacles and ridiculous excuses. For example,
“If individuals were allowed to compete using someone else’s power, the logical conclusion is that a 2:20 marathon runner pushing a 75 year old could help the 75 year old break the world record for that age group”
To be honest, if you can’t solve that simple problem VLM, then you really shouldn’t be in charge of almost 40,000 people on the streets of London. We have run in numerous mass participation events over the years, in every kind of weather, up and down hills that no London marathoner will ever encounter (google Pigeon Top, Omagh) and earned the respect of our fellow runners, but still London refuse us.
We are completely self sufficient, and aren’t asking for special treatment. We just want to take part. Our son’s life is extremely difficult and running has given him, and us an escapism that we could only have imagined having been isolated for so many years, caught up in the endless cycle of hospital appointments, disability and loneliness.
A child with complex needs turns into an adult with complex needs, and gradually as the years go by things are taken away and the opportunities get less and less, the only thing that never goes away is the disability.
We can’t afford a legal team to take on a case that we may not win, and we don’t really want to shout and scream to get our own way. What we want is someone at VLM to sit up and take notice and do the right thing.
In 2018 we are supposed to live in a multi cultural, diverse, inclusive society with equality, so this is simply not acceptable. If someone was refused entry due to their religious beliefs, sexual orientation or race there would be (and quite rightly) a public outcry. But people with complex needs are brushed under the carpet, simply because they are a minority, and this needs to change.
Running makes us feel part of the community.
Running makes us feel part of society.
We love running with our son and we’ve earned the right to run 26.2 miles around London.