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Mass Participation Sports Events
Mass Participation Sports Events
Mass Participation Sports Events
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Mass Participation Sports Events

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Step behind the scenes through the eyes of Chris Robb, a 30-year veteran of the Industry, with experience across four continents and major events such as the Sydney Olympics and some of Asia's largest Mass Participation events.

This book is written to serve as a resource for anyone interested in the mass participation sports industry - from the employees of major industry players through government agents to sponsors, broadcasters, students, participants and charities.

Release dateFeb 28, 2016
Mass Participation Sports Events
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    Mass Participation Sports Events - Chris Robb


    Participating in a mass participation sports event is usually the culmination of a journey that starts weeks, months or maybe even years before the participant finally stands on the start line. The training involves support from a multitude of people including coaches, training partners and loved ones, to name a few. Once the race starts, many of the original supporters remain, albeit on the sidelines, and a whole new team steps in to help the participant reach the finish line safely.

    There are similar parallels that brought me to the finish line of ‘Mass Participation Sports Events’. The journey for me to reach the start line of this book started way back in Zimbabwe as a passionate kid growing up on a farm. I am exceptionally fortunate to have had an amazing support team along the way. From family and friends to mentors, many exceptional colleagues as well as sponsors, suppliers and government officials.

    My special thanks go to:

    Mum and Dad for the inspiration to run and the encouragement to follow my entrepreneurial spirit; my sister Michelle for always being there with love and encouragement. I certainly wouldn’t have made it without the support of the incredible Robb brothers and their families, especially Gordon and Muriel, Tony and Penny, and John and Maureen.

    My ‘Boet’, Bernie Wheeler, for his mentorship and guidance during my early days at Natal University. Also my ‘surrogate mums’ Amy and Shirl; Richard Turbull; and Ray and Tracey Thorne who gave me my first job in the industry.

    Tony Gellert, my business partner, mentor and dear friend, who has helped me grow and manage Spectrum Worldwide over the past 18 years.

    My Aussie mates who were the ‘free labour’, sounding boards and amazing supporters in the early days when I was running on the smell of an oily rag: Marie, Graeme, Warren, Mark and Shaz, Stud, CVH, Herm, Captain, Chrees, Mez, Susie, Pearsey, Wazza, and James and Tracy.

    Dave Cundy for giving me one of my big breaks with the role at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and David Hansen, a great friend and confidante since those exciting times.

    Barbara Paddock and Chris Tatreau for entrusting me to bring the JPMorgan Corporate Challenge to Asia – and thereby starting the next chapter of my career.

    The many people who helped me through the steep learning curve of life and business in Asia especially Oon Jin Teik, Patrick Kok, Phillip Mah, Russel Wong, Marty and Jane Rudden, Pak Wan Lotfi, Julius Evanson, Katherine Wong, Torrey Dorsey and Bob Mok.

    Sport Singapore and Standard Chartered Bank for their faith in our ability to deliver Singapore’s marquee running and mass participation event.

    Alan Rushton for teaching me most of what I know about cycling and his support and friendship over the past 12 years.

    Fred and Princess from Sunrise Events for their belief in Cycle Asia and their huge support in bringing the brand to the Philippines.

    The amazing staff, past and present, that I have had the privilege of working with over the almost 25-year Spectrum Worldwide journey, and the tens of thousands of volunteers without whose passion and support it would have been impossible to deliver the events.

    Not forgetting the many sponsors and clients who have entrusted their brand to me, the government officials who have supported many ‘firsts’, and the suppliers who have gone the extra mile, often in challenging circumstances.

    And, of course, the over one million participants who have taken part over the years.

    Once I reached the start line the actual process of writing the book has taken over a year, and the ongoing support and encouragement from the sidelines has been incredible.

    I certainly couldn’t have done it without the support of my publishing team which include the KPI team of Daniel Priestly, Callum Laing, Paul Dunn, Sean Lau and Olivia Chiong the inspirational mentorship of Andrew Griffiths, and my buddies from the KPI1 group.

    Special thanks to my editors Paul Lonergan and Daniela Cavalletti, as well as Lindy Ferris, my proofreader, at Cavalletti Communications; plus Gordan Blazevic, my cover designer.

    I am honoured and humbled to have such a wonderful foreword from Phil Liggett and Steve Cram.

    And, saving the best till last: my biggest thank you to my amazing wife Tet for her patience, love and support, especially over the past year.


    This book is written in such a way that it serves as a resource for anyone interested in the mass participation sports industry - from the employees of major industry players through government agents to sponsors, broadcasters, students, participants and charities.

    I have drawn from over 30 years of experience in the industry across four continents and events ranging from the Sydney 2000 Olympics to small fun runs and everything in-between.


    A Running Perspective

    Steve Cram, CBE

    I am lucky enough to have had a lifetime of fantastic experiences around the world, due to my ability to run a little faster than most.

    One of the most memorable events was taking part in the inaugural Great North Run in 1981. A staggering 12,000 people lined up to run 13 miles along the roads that had become so familiar to me on countless cold, lonely nights of training. A mass of humanity, as David Coleman – my famous BBC predecessor – used to say, and all of them doing what I thought only a handful of dedicated enthusiasts were interested in.

    The organisers were friends, and they had been overwhelmed with the enthusiastic response to their event. I helped pack numbers into envelopes for nights on end! The local paper printed, and dedicated pages to, the results on the next morning.

    It was an incredibly uplifting experience. And from that willing band of volunteers in the early days a worldwide industry has now been created. However, I too have become poacher turned gamekeeper. Organising safe, enjoyable – and hopefully profitable – events is not an easy task and should not be entered into lightly.

    Chris Robb has a wealth of experience in this sector. His book is a brilliant tool for those wanting to understand the many facets of staging successful mass participation sports events. As my pace continues to slow with age, at least I can still improve as an event organiser – and this excellent book will be part of my coaching setup.

    A Cycling Perspective

    Phil Liggett, MBE – Hertfordshire, UK

    Cycling as a sport and pastime has never been more popular. Thirty years ago those of us who cycled did so to reach far-off places, to get to school, or to train for competition. Everyone else just watched on, seeing us as a ‘strange’ type of person who preferred cycling to riding in a car.

    Oh, my, how times have changed! These days, the exceptions are those people who do not ride a bike. No longer do I see myself as the odd one out, but instead part of an army of pedallers from around the world.

    My first memory of a serious mass-participation ride is of the Cape Town Cycle Tour 1980 in South Africa. Here, one of the world’s most beautiful cities has developed a cycle tour from humble beginnings in 1978 to what it is today: Cape Town’s biggest tourist attraction that draws 40,000 riders to its streets for a ride around the Cape Peninsula.

    But with the world turning to the bicycle, events on public highways have brought about new demands, especially in risk assessment – a word that did not even circulate when I was the organiser of the Tour of Britain Milk Race in 1972 – and that of general safety.

    A rider, who pays a considerable amount to take part, also expects refreshments, safe access, a bit of pampering and a well-drilled organisation that does not miss a trick. Yes, times have really changed from the days of getting changed inside a car and then wheeling off into the countryside for a few hours.

    Police; medical, food and drink suppliers; hotels and parking for maybe 40,000 bikes (not to mention the participants’ cars) all make for a full time job for the man or women who decides organising a ‘fun’ event that is actually that: fun!

    And of course whilst cycling has been my personal passion, it has been impossible to miss the massive growth in running, triathlon and other forms of mass participation sports events.

    Chris Robb has been an organiser of such events for many years. His heart is in seeing the cycling and running phenomenon blossom in Asia and he has not missed a chance to contribute and educate. His book, Mass Participation Sports Events, is based on hard-earned experience from his promotions in Australia, Southern Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and other parts of Asia.

    With Mass Participation Sports Events Chris is cracking open the mysteries behind putting on a successful mass participation event. After reading this book, turning its contents into reality may take you up to a year of detailed planning, not to mention the stress that comes with the job.

    But your reward will be the immense thrill of bringing thousands of participants to the finish line safely – and with an added glow of achievement from those who never thought they could accomplish such a feat.

    After reading this book you will have all you need to know to organise an event from as small as your local village to closing down the centre of a city as big as Cape Town or Singapore. Following Chris’ advice to a T, charities coffers will be bulging, and your participants will feel fit, well and ready to do it again.

    To those who want to organize, here then is your bible.


    It all started for me as a 16-year-old growing up on a farm in Zimbabwe when I organised my first fun run to raise funds to resurface my local school’s ‘cinder’ athletics track.

    Even then, I saw the possibilities – the excitement, the participation and the opportunities to align varied objectives that mass events enable.

    Today, the industry goes way beyond my first run, with events like the Boston, New York and London marathons and many others that have been around for more than a 100 years and the continued evolution with new genres of mass participation events.

    I count myself unbelievably lucky to experience this incredible journey pursuing a career that is so strongly linked to my passion.

    I have been involved in the delivery of events for over one million participants. I started my own business in Australia and expanded it to Singapore and SE Asia where I have created a number of award-winning events and ‘firsts’ in the industry. Spectrum Worldwide is recognised as one of the leading creators and organisers of mass participation events in the region and delivers an ever-increasing portfolio of running and cycling events.

    There have been many challenges and some low points along the way such as dealing with the death of participants and losing my Australian business and virtually all of my material possessions during the GFC in 2009.

    They have been more than counterbalanced by many highs including amazing ‘money can’t buy’ experiences such as sitting in the lead vehicle of the marathon in the Sydney 2000 Olympics and riding in the Race Director’s car at the Tour de Langkawi and an Orica GreenEdge team car at the Tour de France. And of course the thrill of watching hundreds of thousands of happy participants crossing the finish line.

    The lessons that I have learned have been incredible and are transferable to many other industries and indeed, to life in general.

    The alignment of objectives

    In some countries, mass swimming events are becoming increasingly popular with the standout being the Midmar Mile in South Africa that started over 40 years ago and attracts almost 15,000 swimmers. In Australia there are some areas, such as Sydney, where it seems that almost every beach has its own mass swim. It appears that the concept is now starting to get some traction in Asia with events in Hong Kong and Singapore.

    Mass participation sporting events are all about an emotional journey. The highs and lows of the training regime on the way to the event, the excitement and trepidation of standing on the start line all the way through to the thrill, or sometimes sheer relief, of crossing the finish line and many emotional experiences in-between. Increasingly, brands and governments are seeing the benefits of associating themselves with this emotional journey that allows them to create stronger connections with their clients, customers and staff.

    From running to triathlon, cycling and now ‘mob’ events

    Probably the most well-known area of mass participation sport is that of marathon running that experienced a huge boom in the seventies and eighties and has continued to grow on a global basis. However, recent evidence seems to suggest that, aside from the major established marathons, the popularity of full marathons is declining while shorter distances of half-marathons and below continue to experience huge growth.

    In the late eighties and early nineties triathlon was the new kid on the block. It experienced massive growth around the world to the extent that it was included in the Olympics for the first time at the Sydney 2000 Games – and I was lucky enough to play a key role in that inaugural event.

    Cycling was the next sport to come to prominence in the mass participation space, partly I think as a result of the huge exposure generated by the Tour de France. There are now thousands of Gran Fondos or Sportives - the cycling term for mass participation events across the globe.

    In the past few years a new genre has arrived in the form of ‘mob’ events. These are events where participants usually sign-up as a group and the experience is as much about the entertainment as it is about the running. Some examples include the Color Run, where participants are showered in multicoloured dyes along the course, the Electric Run and its many derivatives where ‘party meets run’ and the more challenging Tough Mudder and Spartan type events where entrants tackle commando style obstacles. There is a sense that some of these formats may be ‘fads’ but the inventors are making huge profits and new formats are popping up on a regular basis, especially in the USA.

    Everyone is catered for

    One of the reasons that mass participation events are so popular is that they cater to every level of athletic ability, from the professional to the serious weekend warrior or the social participant and everyone in-between.

    For the participant the events also provide unique opportunities for recreational and elite sports people to participate together on a level playing field. They cover the same route and experience the same weather conditions. It presents a great opportunity for the social runner, cyclist or triathlete to rub shoulders with the best in their sport and compare their results.

    Everyone has their own reason for participating and their own unique story to tell. It may be to qualify for a World Championship or an Olympics, to beat a personal best, to raise money for charity, to honour a bet made in the local pub or simply to have fun. Increasingly, participation is linked to travel and research shows that sports tourism is one of the fastest

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