The Virgin Money London Marathon is at the centre of a Twitter storm over its policy of not awarding finishers’ medals to visually impaired guide runners. Guides receive free entry, but do not receive a chip, official time, T-shirt, finisher’s medal, or any of the other benefits of registration.
Unbelievable that @LondonMarathon have advised guide runners will not receive medals at this year’s marathon. What message does that send on how they value the support provided to participants in disability sport? @BritBlindSport @FoxNikkiFox @VICTAChildren @RNIB @ukrunchat https://t.co/EjVcudKytQ
— Simon Elliott (@selliott666) January 3, 2019
When several individuals asked the organization about the matter, they reported receiving written confirmation that guides for the visually impaired were not entitled to receive a finisher’s medal.
The Twitter thread provoked numerous angry comments directed at race organizers, calling for the policy’s reversal, claiming that Paralympic guides and pacers are recognized, and pointing out that guides must train and prepare for the distance just as their athlete does. Moreover, they claim, the policy sends the wrong message, in an era of supposed inclusion for visually impaired athletes. Many individuals tweeted at Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson to have the policy reversed.
For the sake of comparison, one tweeter helpfully provided the relevant “Instructions for Guides” portion of the New York City Marathon‘s rules, which indicate that guide runners receive a finisher’s medal but no official time, since they are there only to support the visually impaired athlete and are considered their teammate.
Though some criticized the guides for complaining about the lack of recognition, it was clear it was the differently-abled athletes and not the guides who were most upset about the policy.
“The most important part for the disabled athlete is their guide’s free entry,” says Rhonda-Marie Park, a visually impaired runner from southern Ontario. “Of the… main barriers that often stand in the way of a disabled person’s ability to participate, financial strain is a big issue.” Though that’s not the case here (London does give guides free entry), many feel guides should at least be given a shirt and a medal in recognition for their willingness to train and guide a disabled runner.
The story was picked up by Sky News and the Daily Telegraph on Friday. Sky News quoted race director Hugh Brasher confirming that guides are not official entrants, that they do not pay a registration fee, that they are not entitled to any of the benefits of participating beyond guiding their runner, and that this has been the policy of the London Marathon for “many years.”