Comrades is SA's greatest sporting or cultural event says Fordyce as CMA celebrates 100 years
On a day where one hundred years of heritage were celebrated, it was a comment from former Comrades Marathon Chairperson Peter Proctor that explained why South Africans and indeed the rest of the world love this century-old race so much. Monday 24 May marked exactly 100 years since Vic Clapham convinced 34 brave souls to run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in honour of their Comrades who had lost their lives in World War 1.
A century later the event that had started as the exclusive preserve of white men has become the jewel in South Africa's sporting and cultural crown, drawing 20 000 participants and celebrated around the world for its values of inclusivity. Proctor believes that the decision to include non-white runners and women in 1975 was a watershed moment that propelled Comrades into the modern era.
"The inclusion of everybody into the race, whether white or black and the inclusion of women - I think that was one of the biggest achievement of Comrades Marathon," said Proctor at Comrades Marathon House in Pietermaritzburg on Monday. "It makes it a fully inclusive race and I think that's where Comrades goes from here and I think that's so big," he added.
Although Katherine Switzer was transformed into a generational icon when she famously shook off an assault from race organisers who tried to strip her of her bib on the way to becoming the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967, the CMA's decision 8 years later was just as revolutionary given the state of an Apartheid South Africa that would only break down racial barriers almost two decades later.
"They had a number of issues at the time, obviously the political situation was an issue. For the organisers at the time to overlook the negativity that was advanced towards the race - for them to overlook that and go ahead because they knew that it was the right thing to do was the biggest impact at the time," Proctor explained as the sounds of the Pietermaritzburg Caledonian pipe band soared into the sky and the drums of the Iziphiyano dance group beat far into the distance.
His sentiments were echoed by 9-time champion Bruce Fordyce who was part of a star-studded guest list including 21 former winners who had been assembled to complete a ceremonial walk and flag waving display to commemorate the special day. With newly elected Athletics South Africa president James Moloi, Comrades finisher, musician and entrepreneur Kabelo Mabalane and former champions such as of Nick Bester, David Gatebe, Charne Bosman and Cheryl Winn (who is also the current CMA Chairperson) looking on, Fordyce regaled all in attendance with his signature brand of humour and candour that summed up why we love The Ultimate Human race so much.
"I am biased but I think that Comrades is our greatest sporting and cultural event - of any kind," said Fordyce as the audience spontaneously erupted into applause. "It defines us as a nation because we have strength in diversity and it brings the most beautiful things out of us. The diversity, the strength, that we are tough and there's no challenge we can't meet, that we are extraordinary people - that's what makes the Comrades so special," he said.