Friday, December 16, 2016

Failure Of Transparency: Ironman

Ironman, the full version, will not be taking place in Alcudia next year. The roads of the island on the final Saturday of September will no longer be closed off. There will be many who are delighted at the news and just as many who will not be. There will still be the 70.3 Ironman in May, that's for certain, but the longer one has bitten the dust.

Alcudia town hall is at pains to point out that it isn't the body which has stopped the event. The rumours had been rife for several weeks that it wouldn't be taking place, and the town hall and the regional government had been in talks with the Ironman organisers, but to no avail. It will move away from Alcudia and, in all likelihood, be in Catalonia next year - Salou or Calella are in the running (so to speak), with the latter a particularly popular German resort.

The rumours had started more or less at the time the September Ironman took place. Thomas Cook, the main sponsor, was said to be considering pulling out. It has pulled out. It won't be sponsoring the May 70.3 Ironman either. A company called Nirvana, which is a UK event travel organiser, will be the May sponsor.

What has been odd in the reporting of the loss of the full Ironman is that there hasn't been any mention of the Thomas Cook pull-out. The town hall has said that it was unwilling to stump up 350,000 euros for the September event. Does this equate to the level of sponsorship required? This hasn't been stated, but mayor Toni Mir describes the sum as "astronomical" and tourism councillor Joan Vallori says that the town hall can't possibly part with such a large sum that will go to the organisers' bottom line.

No reason has been given for Thomas Cook ending its sponsorship. There may be nothing more to it than a normal review of sponsorship and a decision to discontinue. But one might have felt that there would be some sort of announcement. Instead, there's been nothing.

Reaction on social media has not been complimentary towards the Ironman organisers. Someone said on a forum that there was a "really poor message posted by IM on their Facebook page". On that page, comments are overwhelming in expressing upset at the fact that the full Ironman is not continuing in Alcudia. The event, the island and Alcudia are all praised. People find it hard to understand why it is stopping.

The Ironman organisers cop it for being a "money-making machine" and some people are clearly angry with them, not least because there hasn't been any explanation from them as to why the September race is discontinuing. Someone observes that Ironman is dropping the longer events because the shorter 70.3 attracts more participants (so therefore more money) and because the roads are closed for shorter periods of time.

This, the closure of roads and so the input from police and others, does raise a question about how much the staging of the event costs and who pays for it. The town hall was recently asked to say how much it spends, but does it know? The former mayor Coloma Terrassa, who has said that she felt greater effort could have been made to keep the September event, has also noted that she didn't know precisely what it cost.

The town hall had also raised the possibility of pushing the event back to October. This was mentioned a few weeks ago, the town hall suggesting that a later date would be better for a lengthening of the season. Might it also have been thinking that it would be less disruptive, if there are fewer other tourists in October?

The scrapping of the event raises all these questions, for which there are no clear answers. Terrassa, in a sense, is correct in what she says about more effort, given that the Ironman events have been shown to generate a great deal of income for hotels and other businesses. The sum that the town hall has declined to pay - whatever it was for exactly - might have been felt worthwhile if there were genuinely all the benefits (and I tend to the view that they are genuine). Nevertheless, it is a lot, especially when the town hall is being asked to explain what it spends.

But what of the regional government? Vallori notes that it has been involved in discussions, but how determined might it have been? And has reorganisation of sport had an impact? The Balearic Sports Foundation, which was previously under the combined tourism and sports ministry and is now located within the transparency and culture ministry, agreed, for the 2015 events, to pay Thomas Cook 75,000 euros to sponsor the two Ironmans. Is it now paying Nirvana for the one?

Have budgetary and also political influences played a part in the termination of the September event? Maybe they have, maybe they haven't, but it would be nice to get a thorough explanation regarding the September race from a ministry which deals with transparency. The same, though, can be said for Ironman. And there appear to be plenty of participants wanting an explanation.

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