By Harshana Sellahewa
Being held for the first time in the South Asian region, ‘Ironman 70.3’, a global triathlon brand is being hosted in Sri Lanka from February 22nd to 25th.
The event is organised by Pro-Am Serendib (Pvt.) Ltd, which is the official licensee of the World Triathlon Corporation, as well as the owner of the Ironman global triathlon brand.
Mirror Business was given the opportunity to interview the organisers Pro-Am Serendib Director Yasas Hewage, Pro-Am Serendib Director Rajan Thananayagam and Pro-Am Serendib Director Julian Bolling, to get some insights on the event. Following are excerpts from the interview.
Q: Being held for the first time in Sri Lanka and in the South Asian Region, could you explain the concept behind this endurance event and why Sri Lanka is your choice to host the event?
Rajan: I think Ironman had been looking at Sri Lanka for a very long time, and I’ve been an Ironman triathlete for a really long time and I’ve been talking to them about an opportunity to bring the Ironman brand to Sri Lanka. I am inspired by this brand because it has become part of my lifestyle. I was very inspired to bring the brand and Ironman was also interested so that was pretty much a good marriage. Sri Lanka has been part of the Ironman growth agenda for this region so this is a very significant event for Ironman as well as for Sri Lanka.
Yasas: Basically Ironman is a triathlon, which means it’s a swim, bike and a run. What’s happening in Sri Lanka is a 1.9 kilometre swim, 90 kilometre bike ride and a 21 kilometre run. Ironman has been there for 40 years, and as at today any given year you have over 200 events happening around the world. So this is on the platform of the small emergence of an active lifestyle - a healthy lifestyle - people who, after flourishing in their careers or in different points in life are looking to challenge themselves, challenge their limits. This is the space of celebrating someone pushing themselves to the edge just to feel good about it or to prove something to themselves.
Q: Hosting an event of such calibre is bound to turn heads and bring about volunteers; what kind of mass participation are you expecting?
Yasas: Colombo is going to attract over 880 athletes from over 60 countries, ranging from India, UK, France, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Middle East, and Africa. Argentina- It’s a massive amount of people coming from around the world. The beauty about Ironman is that it’s not just a triathlon, its like a race vacation, so that’s why this is called proper sports tourism, so with every athlete their friends and family travels. The estimation is an amount between 2,300-2,500 from around the world will be here including athletes and their families. This makes it the largest ever sports tourism event that has ever happened in this country.
On the other hand, if you look at the support structure to put an event like this together, you’re talking about over 500 volunteers, over 300 police, over 60 officials, leaving aside the supply chain of event management teams, people who are doing expo, right down to someone who is making the medal.
Q: Ironman, being a global endurance triathlon brand, has a vast international audience and partakers. How diverse will the participants of this year’s event be?
Julian: If you look at it, there’s an age split. Goes down from 18 years to 81 years. 23 percent of the participants are women, and an unbelievable number of disabled athletes. Obviously it’s an income-based event, in the sense that we need income, athletes have a pre-registration, but we looked at the local situation- we came across the triathletes who train full-time from the forces, and they don’t have any money to enter, they don’t even have races- on an annual calendar I think they have two races a year, but they train full time. So, with the forces having this personnel who are into the sport full-time, we offered them free entry.
Rajan: As a team, we are very passionate about supporting the national integration so we are having six teams, which are formed from athletes from North, East and South, consisting men and women- basically island wide participation. There are also two blind athletes who are performing the full triathlon. Through this event we are trying to make a difference to this country and its people, so we want to showcase Sri Lanka’s potential to the world, and we want to position Sri Lanka as the hub for sports tourism. We want to make Sri Lanka the adventure country of Asia. The sport of triathlon is very new, and we have phenomenal talents locally, and we want to set a platform for these athletes to perform. We also hosted the first ever Ironkids in South Asia in Seenigama, so we are taking this sport to the grassroots level.
Q: What sort of impact will this event have on the local tourism sector, and how much is expected to be generated through foreign exchange and expenditures?
Yasas: This is probably going to be the benchmark of sports tourism. The country has a big vision of four million tourists by 2020 and in one way or the other the numbers have picked up. Ironman is a classic example of how we have attracted top tourists from around the world to come and spend good money. We would expect these athletes to travel with about two or more family members, staying anything between seven to ten days. So our estimation is approximately around three million US Dollars of revenue- direct economic benefit to the country. This includes their travel, their lodging, purchases like shopping and more as such.
Q: This event covers a wide area of land and water, and with such an amount of participants, what sort of safety concerns will be in place?
Rajan: That is the number one thing, so safety and security of our participants whether local or international that’s the paramount. So for the sea, when they swim, I would say we have assembled one of the best teams in the country- We have the Navy, the Sri Lanka Life Saving Association, Sri Lanka Coast Guard who are doing the water safety since there are standards to be met. For each 25 swimmers we need to have one SRB (Surf Rescue Board), and that is the international standard, which we are exceeding. We are setting up a swim course that can be the most safest, where you will have a lot of rest options along the way, since it is on the sea-front, so we have gone past the stringent requirements of the Ironman for us to host this event, and we have a lot of challenges. In addition to that we have a very sophisticated medical programme around this event. So we partnered with Asiri Hospital, so they are the official medical partner for this event, and then we wanted to bring that knowledge to the country, because when we went around talking to many hospitals, they don’t have direct experience in partnering in an event like this, so we had to go get the best person, who is the person in the global Ironman group, setting the medical programme standards around the world, so we have recruited Ironman Medical Director Tracey O’Connor from Australia to come and set the medical programme here with the aim of getting that knowledge into the country. So safety and security is paramount and in addition to that we are also working with the Ministry of Law and Order, this is international travellers, so in addition to the event related safety, we want to make sure of the safety of the participants.
Pix by Kushan Patiraja