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Sheffield Half Marathon Descends into Chaos
Posted by David Cant on April 6, 2014

There were scenes of chaos in Sheffield this weekend after attempts to cancel the annual city half marathon failed. Race organisers called off the race after the contracted supplier of water to the runners failed to turn up.

Without sufficient water for the 5000-strong contingent of runners, the medical and health and safety teams overseeing the race called for the race to be cancelled – thirty minutes after the race was due to start. After the announcement however, it became clear that “all 5000 participants wanted to race anyway,” the organiser’s chair Margaret Lilley was reported as saying.

The lesser of two evils

When it became clear that runners were determined to complete the course with or without the blessing of the organisers, the police were forced to step in. South Yorkshire Police also tried to convince runners that without adequate water provisions the race was dangerous, but again with little success.

In the end Police decided that it was a lesser risk to allow the race to proceed, than to try and disperse the runners. Tweeting about the incident, Inspector Neil Mutch of South Yorkshire Police’s Organisational Planning Unit said, “Despite cancellation of race, runners have decided to run regardless. All road closure remain in place for safety.”

What can business learn from this incident?

So what does the Sheffield Half Marathon have to teach businesses?

1. Be prepared

The race organisers clearly thought they had everything under control until the promised water bowsers failed to arrive on the day. The organising team seems to have delayed cancellation of the race until it was too late to prevent the 5000 runners arriving.

Takeaway: Set a deadline for cancellation that gives you time to spread the word before too many attendees arrive, making it difficult or impossible to properly disperse them.

2. Consider your exit strategy

Secondly, the race organisers do not seem to have had any form of backup plan in place for dispersing the runners in the event of a disruption that meant the race needed to be cancelled. The fact that Police and organisers alike were unable to move the runners away from the start line suggests that there had never been a plan to cover such an eventuality.

Takeaway: Always consider the exit strategy – how will you get your team (or members of the public) out of a situation where things have gone wrong.

3. Don’t neglect the ‘lesser risk’ option

In many circumstances the police may have tried to forcibly remove the runners from the course, simply because that was they tried initially. Instead they chose to allow the race to go ahead because they assessed the situation and decided it was safer than trying to disperse the runners otherwise.

Takeaway: When in an unexpected situation, don’t neglect the ‘lesser risk’ option, rather than simply doing what you initially believe to be the ‘correct’ action.

Has your business ever encountered a situation where you had to take a ‘lesser risk’ approach? How did it work out?


Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME's favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick.

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