Athletics stars past and present have backed calls to keep the Great Edinburgh International XCountry in its present home after it was revealed that Saturday’s edition might be the last in Holyrood Park.
The showpiece – considered second only to the world cross-country championships in terms of prestige – is set to move elsewhere in the UK following a decision from City of Edinburgh Council to withdraw its financial support.
Although the annual backing, understood to be more than £100,000, comes at a time when authorities are being asked to make deep cuts to budgets, the decision to push out the capital’s lone world-class event is a major blow to the sport. And former world champion Liz McColgan claims the move fails to factor in the myriad spin-offs derived from the televised meeting and its adjoining open-to-the-public Great Winter Run.
“It’s just a shame really as it’s an established event with TV coverage,” she said. “So great for the city, for Scottish athletics and the athletes, to have this calibre of events where kids and club runners can compete then watch the elite athletes compete. Events like this inspire people so it’s a big loss to Edinburgh and athletics in Scotland.”
With confirmation that the long-standing Great Edinburgh Run has also been scrapped in 2018 due to cost concerns, it removes two of the capital’s three mass participation events at a stroke.
Government agencies have signalled their intention to try and find an alternative home in Scotland for the cross-country meeting which has been in its present site for the past 14 years and has featured A-Listers such as Olympic champions Kenesisa Bekele, Eliud Kipchoge and Mo Farah, who called the venue “amazing”.
Discussions with potential hosts elsewhere in the UK have already begun, it has been confirmed. Sources at organisers Great Run told The Scotsman that the door remains open for a change of heart before any final switch is confirmed but that seems unlikely. “I would like to take this opportunity to wish the Great Run Company all the best,” said Edinburgh’s Culture Convener Donald Wilson.
A disastrous decision, insisted Scottish Athletics chief executive Mark Munro. “This year, the public were running from point to point to watch Laura Muir’s victory in the 4x1km relay. Quite simply, it’s an event that brings the athletics community and general public together,” he said. “Whilst understanding the financial challenges we all face just now, it is extremely disappointing that the City of Edinburgh Council have made the decision to remove their financial contribution. We will work with Great Run Company and Event Scotland to see if there are opportunities to continue with the event elsewhere in Scotland.”
Muir was another of those who underlined the importance of the event in placing the elite alongside young hopefuls and club runners. “I remember coming here years ago and running inter-districts and it’s great I can still be part of this race,” said the Olympic finalist, who will opt out of next month’s Muller Grand Prix in Glasgow in favour of competing at the UK indoor trials. “To see that progression, I was once where these kids are now and I hope they get a lot out of it as an experience.”
Europe took the spoils in the overall event ahead of GB&NI and the USA with American Leonard Korir and Turkey’s Yasemin Can, both Kenyan-born, retaining the titles they claimed in 2017. However, as a season starter for many, it served its purpose, with European bronze medallist Steph Twell buoyed despite coming fifth in the relay as part of a Scotland team that fell too far off the pace.
“My legs were quite wobbly at the end, so I got the effect of that really tough run,” said Twell, who arrives in South Africa today for a training camp ahead of the indoor season. “It was a solo time trial for me, really, because I wasn’t in the race. My heart and lungs got a really good blow-out after Christmas.”