#Article (Archive)

Run In Gambia, With the Brufut Marathon

Oct 26, 2009, 4:59 PM

In the absence of a national marathon, a group of sports enthusiasts defy odds to organise the best known road race in The Gambia for the last 14 years. As the 15th anniversary of the event nears, Journalist Lamin Cham of Gamsports.Com, himself, a founding member of the group, takes us through a typical Brufut marathon day.
 If you frequently drive the Sukuta-Brufut link of the Kombo Coastal Roads every late December, you probably must have bumped into a crowd of T/Shirt with runners spread across the width of the road heading to Brufut. They have been doing that for the last 14 years, and they are participants of the Brufut Marathon Run, so-called because it was conceived as such when it first started in the coastal town which organised it since 1995.
And in the absence of an officially organised national marathon, the organisers, the Brufut Marathon Run Association, BMRA, defied and perhaps with some justification calls from the National Olympic Committee and other bodies to delete marathon from its name.
Actually one sports leader once confided in me rather embarrassingly that Brufut has outdone even the GAA in organising road races.
Slated for December 12th this year, a typical Brufut marathon day is a big social and festive event in the town and an exciting time for the athletes some of them national ones bereft of action on the national stage.
Big names like Ansu Sowe, Musa Badjie, Jay Secka and many former and current national athletes have Brufut marathon certificates and trophies in their cupboards. Apart from making national athletes and rookies famous for at least a day, the event has also turned its organisers, mainly drawn from local residents, into masters in athletics meeting planners, sometimes requesting little assistance from national office.
The day starts with a frenzy last minute compilation and registration of participants, who never heed calls to register in advance. The main registration team is always led by Dembo Jata, alias Gabasine , so-called because of his twin-like resemblance with the film star. Hefty and handsomely built Gabasine uses his physical authority to get unruly athletes registered and collect start numbers and  shirts on time, and arrange for them to be transported to the starting point at the Brufut Primary School grounds. He and his team would then change to track officers before returning to the starting point to reconcile his books. (He almost always has shortage or brings more money than the registration lists contained.)

Only the indefatigable Treasurer Alieu Jarju can balance Gabasine?s books. Alieu keeps the associations? funds, safer than some banks in Banjul would. He is so scrupulous and so obsessed with accuracy that he would verify even every single bottle that went missing from dozens of crates borrowed or bought by the association, just to correctly balance his books. That is Alieu, detailed and honest to the core.
Meanwhile at the school grounds, a live music set blast track after track, calling people and invited guests to partake in the procedures. Once seated, the Master of Ceremonies, or MC, always my very self, would call out athletes and rules of the race before sending them on course, starting with the girls .The interval is measured such that the  girls  return  before the first male athlete set out for easy recording and checking by judges.

As they return to the starting point the runners draw large crowds who throng the central road through to the market and the school beyond it. The runners are escorted by Police motor cycles, while the Red Cross and the local dispensary led by medical organising member Marie Joof provides back-up ambulances to take care of the weak and tied.

Marie, who never misses the event in 14 years, is helped by a pool of volunteers and their nightmare begins with the arrival of athletes. Caring for every arrival, on their legs or in the ambulances is Marie?s greatest show of super competence and control.
Meanwhile, as the runners are gathered and treated for exhaustion by Marie and Co., the MC would introduce the Chairman of the BMRA, government officials, local dignitaries and donors, to give light to the significance of the event, often on a given theme adopted each year to highlight a concept ranging from forest conservation to prevention of Aids and Malaria. This is the moment you will usually notice the presence of the versatile Max Jallow. He has more energy than all athletes combined and probably more sporting ideas that the entire sport ministry can fund or stage. A pioneer of the event, MAx?s joyous moment is to see the Brufut marathon  run in progress. He would give the crowd the BMRA story from embryonic days before passing the baton to Secretary-General Seedy Bojang. A great writer now, Seedy would flood all media houses with regular press releases on the run to keep momentum and maximum publicity. Haxs, as the locals call him often holds radical views but his presence is always a delight and sharing ideas, no matter how diverse is the strong points of the BMRA members.
One of the event?s key collaborators has been the UK charity group, Friends of The Gambia who provides cash prizes and the ever more exciting rice raffle draw. At their behest, a couple Britons connected with their charity visited The Gambia and even took part in the race. The amiable John Alan is one and the well-known comedian is another; and FOTGA executive members from Jeff Philips through David Smith and John ?Konoba?, Manidinka for Big Stomach, have never missed any event.
Property developer Mustapha Njie, who runs the beautiful Brufut Gardens has been principal sponsor of the preparatory expenses leading to the event over many years and is often represented at the event. Taf as his known in The Gambia recognised the initiative and associated his enterprise with the effort of the local community of whom, he considers himself part of. 
Meanwhile, at  Ground Zero, once the speeches are done, the huge and anxious crowd then give their ears to only one man, the Master of Ceremonies, for many years my very self ( without blowing my own trumpet a few can surpass the enigmatic way I handle the audience often keeping them in suspense and drama as I introduce the winners in both male and female categories.)

Our final activity on the day is presiding over the exciting rice draw. Each year ten bags of rice, donated by FOGTA, is won by athletes from both categories through a raffle where by all start numbers are put in a bag and mixed up and down. After each mixing, a child would select one number from the bag whose holder wins a bag of rice. The act is repeated ten times until every bag is won. This is the last but not the least interesting part because no one move an inch until all the rice is won. Sometimes athletes who already won cash prizes go to win the rice too. Sometimes athletes of the same sex win the entire raffle. That had changed with the inspirational advice of Ba S Jabbi, the current Chairman. A founding member Jabbie invented the scholarship concept as a BMRA project and since then the BMRA has supported the funding of lots of students. He often takes a lay back posture on marathon days, working behind the scenes and tidying loose ends but his sharp observation at post event brainstorming meetings led to many positive changes. It was he who observed that the raffle should be divided into male and female categories so that both sexes would have their share of winners of the rice.( In passing let me tell you a personal story about the rice raffle. Of course, BMRA members are not allowed to take part in the raffle but in 2002 by brother Sutay who stays in my house won a bag. He decided just there that he would give the rice to our sister Binta who stays in the family house. Many days after, I visited Binta and kids and met them just about to start eating a hot groundnut soup and rice. I ate to my ear drums and before I left my sister said, ?This is your marathon rice that Sutay won. I silently prayed for the FOTGA and drove back home. Many families have had similar experiences making the Brufut marathon a true community project. The BMRA  used marathon proceeds to help finance a Mosque construction project; a women gardening project; provides fuel and logistical support to community ambulance service and paid tuition fees for scores of students. Success in these projects, especially in the education area has made BMRA a reference point for needy local students struggling to meet cost of education to this day.
In conclusion, a typical marathon day wraps up with a night dance, often in open air and open to all people of every age. So if you  are reading this in the UK, or anywhere in the world and happen to be in The Gambia on or around December 12th , add the Brufut marathon to your Gambian experience either as a participant, donor or just a tourist.