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Hopes for church talks over Sunday marathon

The organisers of the Belfast City Marathon have revealed they will seek talks with churches over plans to hold next year’s marathon on a Sunday.

They are considering switching the event from its traditional date of the first May Bank Holiday to the Sunday before, claiming the day is more suitable for traders and participants.

The matter was to have been decided at a meeting of Belfast City Council last night. But DUP councillor William Humphrey, chair of the development committee, said the matter would instead be considered at committee level at the request of some Ulster Unionist councillors. “If we are to move forward we need to take everyone with us, if we can,” he said.

Mr Humphrey said the council would make a decision next month.

A letter was sent by the marathon’s organisers asking the council to support the change. But in a letter to Lord Mayor of Belfast Naomi Long, Presbyterian Moderator Dr Stafford Carson said the congregations of around 40 churches close to the race route would face congestion if the marathon took place on a Sunday.

Danny O'Connor, chairman of Belfast City Marathon, said marathons were run around the world on Sundays with the support of churches.

“We don't have to stick with the current route, we don't have to start at 9am — we will be looking at all of those things,” he said.

“We would look to talk to the churches involved and we will take it from there.”

The organisers said Translink, the Roads Service and Belfast City Centre Management all support the switch to a Sunday.

The moderator said the event was of great importance to Belfast, but added: “By running the event on a Sunday, I am concerned that many churchgoers and Christians will no longer be able to give the event their full support.”

He said: “If the marathon starts at its usual time (9am) this will clash directly with morning services resulting in congestion and difficulty for people travelling to and from their place of worship.”

Mr Carson said many Christians did not want to take part in sport on Sundays. “This will therefore diminish one the very positive benefits that the Belfast City Marathon has brought to our community life and will exclude those who are committed to their local church on a Sunday,” he said.

Over 3,000 runners entered the main run in Monday’s marathon, which began at the City Hall at 9am and finished at Ormeau Park in south Belfast. Almost 15,000 in total took part.

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Finishing times - relay teams

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