Wicked! Kids get raw deal at Accra Milo Marathon

milo-marathonFact 1: The Accra Milo Marathon, through persistence and a dint of hard work, has turned out to be the biggest, and perhaps the best of such event in the country.

Fact 2: With prize money of GH¢5,000 for the junior category, GHc2,000 for first runner-up and GHc1,000 for the second runner-up, the annual competition, predictably, draws massive interest among kids in the primary and junior high schools, JHS. They look forward to it with great expectations.

Fact 3: However, the event that is supposed to bring unspeakable joy to competing children and adults is gradually turning to a harrowing ordeal for the kids. As things are, the quest for money seems to be overshadowing the ideals of the completion. The quest for money is coming at the detriment of the health and wellness of the kids aged between five and 15 years, thus effectively defeating the purpose for which the marathon was intended.

Since 1987, the Accra Milo Marathon has been an annual ritual that generates intense interest from people in and out of the country. But the arrangement for this year’s edition has cast a slur on the brilliant achievements of the past, as discovered by Weekend Sun after spending two hours with the marathoners on the eve of the event.

Time was about 11 p.m. on Sunday, September 20, 2015. It was barely six hours to the flagging off of the 15-kilometre marathon. While the organisers were snoring away in the comfort of their bedrooms, the kids numbering over 200 huddled in the precincts of the Dansoman Keep Fit Club, looking like sheep abandoned by their shepherd.

They could not gain access to the club, as arranged, and there were no buses around to convey them to the Azumah Nelson Sports Complex, the starting point of the marathon.

To add pepper to the kiddies’ injury, there were no officials around to minister to their varying needs, despite the harsh weather condition. No blankets were provided to help the kids stave off the biting cold of the night. Neither was there any official caterer seen serving the kids to save them from hunger. Worst still, there was not a single police officer on sight in the area to provide security for the kid runners. They just scattered all over the place like sheep without shepherd!

However, despite the obvious lapses on the part of the organisers, Weekend Sun observed that the junior athletes still tried to make the best of the terrible situation. Despite the situation, they were gripped with anxiety and roared for action. Despite their anxiety, they made the atmosphere carnival-like.

Indeed, any casual visitor or observer would mistake the cacophony of noise by the kids for the excited babel that usual saturates venues of massive evangelism or miracle crusade. The glaring truth unravels when the casual observer movers closer and learns that these, indeed, are kids warming up to run the race of their life in less than six hours, hence.

While many of the kids chit-chat, others simply form jama groups in a bid to motivate themselves for the battle ahead. The kids try their level best to drown their suffering in the anticipation of the race ahead, driven by passion and the thirst for the ultimate prize of the marathon.

Those who cannot cheat nature ignore the ear-tearing noise, and manage to catch some sleep, snoring their stresses away, perhaps dreaming of crossing the finish line as winners of the junior category. However, some of the runners choose not to be in the open but in the dark alleys around, hobnobbing with the opposite sex.

Kofi Attah Yaw, a 10-year-old class four pupil of one of the schools in the capital city, Accra, struggles to keep his eyes open. He tells the sordid story of the challenges he, together with over 3,000 other kids, endure, just to take part in the event. Dreaming of becoming one of the country’s greatest athletes, he says he has trained for over two months and has participated in the event on two earlier occasions.

“I came here, with my friends to join a car to the starting point,” Yaw begins in fluent Twi. “And this is what we go through each year. We come and sleep in the open; there is no shelter, nothing. We just hang around till anytime the organisers choose to start registering us at the Azumah Nelson Sports Complex. Usually, a bus would come to take us to the Sports Complex. And sometimes, you have to wait till dawn before it comes. And nobody bothers to find out what you do to stay the night. Yet, if you don’t come here, you can’t take part in the event.”

For this 12-year-old class six pupil, who simply identifies herself as Akos, this year’s stanza is her second appearance in the final of the Accra Milo Marathon. She is in the company of her friends from the same school who have also come to have a shot at the cash prize. She reveals to Weekend Sun that even though she is uncomfortable with the ordeal she has been taken through, she still believes “it will be worth it.”

“Our situation here is not good at all,” she confesses with a tinge of regret. “But we can’t do anything about it.”

Dominic Adjei, a JHS 2 pupil, however, agrees perfectly with Akos, though he believes the organisers can do better at improving the event. His qualm stems from the fact that they are exposed to the cold night on the eve of the race. Coming all the way from Mamprobi, he believes the organisers can provide them with makeshift tents to ensure they are well composed for the race ahead.

“They should do something about this,” he continues. “Every year, we come and sleep outside. Mosquitoes bite us; some of the boys also bully the young ones. It is terrible.”

Curiously, after the race which saw him placing a distant 128th, he encountered Weekend Sun again. Approaching with a weak smile, he yelled out to the reporter in the crowd and complained bitterly about the prize package given him. He, together with 2,900 other kids, were given an exercise book, four sachets of Milo, and a certificate of participation that bears no name or the position they finished with. Apparently the prize for those who placed between 101 and 3000 is the same. But Master Adjei believes he was shortchanged, saying that his GH¢5 registration fee had been wasted.

“Just look at what I was given,” he snarled. Just four sachets of Milo and an exercise book! Is this up to GH¢5?” Asked whether he would still turn up in subsequent event, he replies with an emphatic “yes.” He, however, hopes the organisers of the hugely sponsored marathon would increase the package for all participants next year.

A student of the Breman Junior High School, in the Central Region, came first in the Under-15 category and took home the GH¢5,000 prize package. David Otoo clocked 58 minutes and 29 seconds to beat over 3,000 others.

The mass category however, proved to be a straight fight between the Ghana Armed Forces and the Police Service. Alternating the first position between themselves from the blast of the whistle, at The Point in Nungua, the starting point, Alhaji Kassim Mohammed secured the bragging rights for the Military over their Police counterparts.

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