Church ministers' dismay in protest over Belfast's Sunday marathon
More than a dozen Free Presbyterian ministers protesting against the Belfast Marathon being held on a Sunday believe they are following in the footsteps of Olympian athlete Eric Liddell.
The head of Athletics NI David Seaton, who chairs the marathon board, was handed a letter issued by the church's Government and Morals Committee outside Stormont yesterday.
The statement, which was signed by the moderator the Rev Gordon Dane, expressed "dismay" over the "violation of the fourth commandment".
"This will be the first time the marathon will be held in Belfast on a Sunday and it marks another watershed moment in modern Ulster's increasing rejection of the Lord's Day," it stated.
The letter also claimed that too many sporting events have "scant regard for Evangelicals" some of whom are ardent supporters of the marathon.
The petition will be handed over to the marathon board and considered at its next meeting, but that won't be held until after tomorrow's race.
Mr Seaton said organisers are unlikely to change their mind.
"Athletes want to race on a Sunday like most other marathons around the world," he said.
"The numbers also justify what we have done because participation is up by 60%."
However, the athletics boss, who is a church-goer himself, welcomed his friends' right to protest.
"That's why I came here to receive their petition," he added.
"I don't agree with what they are doing but there's been no nastiness and everything has been very gentlemanly.
"A lot of other churches have been very supportive and organised earlier services for runners - a lot will be putting up stalls and offering refreshments."
Rev David McLaughlin of Carryduff Free Presbyterian Church expressed opposition to all sports being played on the Lord's Day, which he said should be kept holy.
"We don't expect our small token protest will change anything and are happy to be out of step with public opinion rather than out of step with God's word."
The clergyman said he believes his colleagues are also very much in step with the Olympian gold medallist Eric Liddell who refused to run in the 1924 summer games in Paris.
The Christian missionary, who refused to run in the 100 metre heats because they were being held on a Sunday, went on to win the 400 metre race which took place on a weekday.
Other church parishes have expressed concern that worshippers will be prevented from attending services as a result of disruption tomorrow.
But Steven Burns, a traffic management consultant for the marathon organisers, is confident that necessary diversions are in place.
See Review, page 23