The seven Cambodian runners in Innsbruck had one thing in common: none live in Cambodia. If they had, they wouldn’t have been able to afford to come to Austria.
Many runners at the WMTRC agree running is among the most accessible sports in terms of equipment. One doesn’t need to buy surfboards, racing bikes, or racquets—just a good pair of trail shoes, comfortable running clothes, and sometimes a hydration vest. For most runners at Innsbruck, these costs were not the problem. Although the championship organization took care of the room and meals for most runners, traveling to Austria or other international competitions can be a heavy burden.
There are substantial financial disparities between the different country teams in Innsbruck; some, like Italy, cover all expenses, such as travel or uniforms. Some teams cover most expenses but ask for a small fee from runners, like Team Norway runners who must pay 1,000 Norwegian kroner or about 86 euros. But for some runners, such as those from Mexico, the only support they get is the uniforms.
It is not even that for Team Malta: they can only borrow the uniforms. Jake Fenech and Luke Micallef, runners from Malta, explain that they must either buy the uniform, which many do so they can keep it for other competitions, or return it after the championship.
“We do classification races to decide who can come, and it has happened in the past that runners selected didn’t want to or couldn’t spend the money to travel,” Micallef said.
They felt lucky the WMTRC had happened in Innsbruck this year, as flights were only 170 euros. Last year the team competed in La Palma, Spain, which was about 600 euros per person. Both runners agree travel costs were why Team Malta didn’t participate in the WMTRC in Thailand last year.
Teams like Malta also get creative to find alternative sources of funding. The Maltese runners explained they could get a refund for La Palma travel costs from the Tourism Office in Malta. But they had to apply after the race, and it wasn’t guaranteed.
Malta is one of many teams that are trying to find alternative funds. Team Ecuador has received most of its support through the private trail running association ASET. Team Cambodia is also not new to private fundraising, explains team manager Laurie Phai, who ran for the team at the WMTRC in Thailand but is recovering from an injury this year and who, like most on the Cambodian team, lives in France.
“Last year in Thailand, two people in the team lived in Cambodia because it wasn’t too far, and it wasn’t too expensive,” Phai said, “It was been impossible this year. Just the flights cost around 1,500 each.” That cost, 1,500 euros, is about the same as Cambodia’s average annual income per capita.
The team also had to pay around 600 euros for their uniforms and glue the Thai flag to the uniform. “It’s not easy to do fundraising all the time because people begin to think you are taking advantage,” She said.
They are also trying to develop the sport in their home country, but it is not easy “because it is a very poor country,” Phai said. But they do their best to support young runners.
“There is a young boy in Cambodia, John Soboros. He is really good,” Phai said, “For the next world championship in Spain if we don’t gather the funds, the team will do everything we can to bring him, even if that means paying from our own pockets.”
Credit: AIPS Media