London Marathon reviewing its system for allocating places to charities

26 Mar 2019 News

Organisers of the London Marathon are reviewing their system for allocating places in the event to charities, following criticism from smaller organisations.

The marathon offers charities the ability to buy a number of "bonds" to secure places for their runners. However, these can be renewed in perpetuity, limiting the opportunity for other charities to get involved.

The marathon also runs a ballot for charities to obtain further places, but these are limited to 500.

London Marathon Events Ltd has now said the system is “under review” after some charities complained that it limits their ability to get involved.

Nick Bitel, chief executive of London Marathon Events Ltd, said: “The bond system is at the very early stages of review but it is a very complex situation.”

Charity criticism

Speaking to the Telegraph, Patrick Cox, chief executive of the Male Cancer Awareness Campaign, described the system as a “golden handshake” enabling only a relatively small number of charities to benefit.

“It’s very difficult for a new charity to just get one place,” he said. “The system is not transparent and it’s not charitable.”

In 2005, several charities asked the Office of Fair Trading to investigate whether the ballot breached competition law.

However, a spokesperson from London Marathon Events estimated that less than a dozen charities have complained about the system over the last five years.

Review welcomed

Interim chief executive for the Small Charities Coalition, Angela Style, said: "The London Marathon is a fantastic source of fundraising income but for too long small charities have been shut out, with all their running hopes pinned to the competitive ballot lottery.

“We welcome the decision to review the ballot process but recognise that for big charities, this could cause challenges in future fundraising.

"We would ask big charities to support the development of a more equal system. We think that civil society is stronger because of the range of charity sizes and when small charities are supported, big charities benefit too." 

A spokesperson from the Institute of Fundraising added: “The London Marathon has been phenomenally successful for fundraising.

"As it’s grown as an event it has also become more competitive for places, so it seems a positive move to review how the widest range of charities can be involved.

"It is a tricky area though as we don’t want to see charities miss out who have benefited in the past and planned this into their yearly activities, so hope that an appropriate balance can be found.”

Five years to implement changes

The "gold bond" system was introduced in 1993. Costing £300, it guarantees 15,000 places in the marathon to 700 charities on a first-come, first-served basis, and can be renewed in perpetuity.

In 2007, London Marathon Events launched an additional "silver bond" scheme in an effort to widen access. This gave a further 550 charities one place in the marathon once every five years.

Since 2015, other charities may enter an annual ballot, which awards places to 500 more charities. Charities can also obtain places by purchasing advertising packages, beginning at £3,500 for two places, up to £22,000.

Bitel said that the organisation will have to consider how further changes to the system would affect smaller charities, some of which use the system for “vital funding” as part of their fundraising model.

“The earliest time any changes could come into effect would be for the 2022 race and it would take another five years for any changes to be fully implemented,” he added

A record number of 414,168 applied to run in this year’s marathon, which will take place on 28 April, through the public ballot.

The most popular marathon worldwide, it raised £63,700,000 last year.

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector sign up to receive the Civil Society News daily bulletin here



More on

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. Read our policy here.