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Non-residents banned from running in Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby

Dennis Mbelenzi is disappointed by the ruling to prevents him running in the Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Last year's winner Dennis Mbelenzi has been left bitterly disappointed after being denied the chance to run in the Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby.

The 41-year-old was the first across the line in last year’s race but as a non-resident he was prevented from being recognised as the official race winner or receiving prize money, with that honour instead going to Bermudian Lamont Marshall.

The controversy prompted a furious debate and race organisers have confirmed to The Royal Gazette that this year’s race is no longer open to non-residents.

“After countless hours of discussion and consultation with runners and the community at large, the committee has decided that this race will remain a symbol of Bermuda’s heritage in that participants must be Bermudian or a Bermuda resident for at least six months.

“The Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby is and always has been for Bermudians and residents for at least six months. While we realise the Derby is one of the most beautiful half-marathons in the world, thanks to both our spectators and participants, on the celebration of our 115th year we remain committed to preserving the Derby as Bermuda’s iconic local running event.”

Gina Tucker, president of the Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby committee, further emphasised the reasoning behind the decision.

“In a time when so many of our traditions are being lost, we will hold fast to preserving this piece of our heritage and look forward to the entire community celebrating our local runners in what is considered the culminating race in the local road running season,” she said.

The outcome has left Mbelenzi, who lived on the island from 2007 to 2019 before moving to Canada, bemused and saddened.

“It’s really disappointing and I’m shocked that the race committee have come to this decision,” said Mbelenzi, who was denied his moment of glory in last year’s race after the decision was taken for the lead vehicle to focus on the second-placed Marshall rather than cover him crossing the line.

“It’s sad that this feels like a direct consequence of what happened last year and I believe it will only create more issues.

“Last year my placing in the race was not at all recognised, but how can that be when I was an official participant?

“I said after the race that I hoped my victory would not lead to a decision to take the event backwards and create barriers.

“This doesn’t look good for the race and I don’t really see who this benefits in the greater scheme, because most don’t care about the prize money, just the race itself.

“Many people, including myself, support the idea of only having money on offer for the local runners, but why not have the race open to everyone to at least run.

“Talks of a rule change to have staggered starts for residents and non-Bermudians felt aggressive, but I never thought this would happen, I’m truly shocked and disappointed.”

As well as his own disappointment, Mbelenzi has also warned of the greater impact that the decision will have on sports tourism.

“It almost seems un-Bermudian because the island has always been so welcoming and accommodating, but in this instance the race organisers obviously feel differently,” he added.

“There is a strong chance that you would have had runners looking to come over to compete, but now that is impossible because of this decision.

“You’re never going to have elite-level runners coming here to compete in the race, but why block all international runners?

“How many of those potential international runners would have a chance of winning?

“If the prize money is the issue then just make it perfectly clear from the beginning that a non-resident cannot claim any prize money.

“There are not many races that I can think of that people are not allowed to participate at all. I’d like to think that most of the community would not agree with the decision, but unfortunately a small minority feel that way.

“We’ll have to see how this works out, but as I said, I don’t see who this benefits by not allowing a whole group of potential runners to compete at all. Maybe the organisers will be open to amending the rule again down the line.”

Despite the setback, the Kenyan native is adamant it has not put him off from continuing his affinity of competing on island in the future, including the Half-Marathon Derby, should the decision be reversed.

“I understand that race organisers are different from each event and so it is not the island as a whole that has come to this decision,” said Mbelenzi, who became a popular favourite among the island’s running community after taking up the sport in 2016.

“It has been decided by the organisers of this race itself and is one that I have to respect.

“If I’m allowed and welcomed back in the future, I’ll always look to come back and race.”

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Published February 27, 2024 at 8:01 am (Updated February 27, 2024 at 8:42 pm)

Non-residents banned from running in Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby

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