Organizers of this year’s Stockholm marathon wanted it to be a “Nordic international competition,” with primarily Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Finns, and Icelanders racing in the event, and only Nordic winners eligible for the prize money.
It was a stark change in purpose and policy for an event that in recent years has been dominated by athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia. The plan to make runners from non-Nordic countries ineligible for appearance fees and for the $28,600 prize pot struck some as sinister. Norwegian sports columnist Andreas Selliaas wrote that the policy was “as close to racism as it’s possible to come.”
In the face of the predictable public backlash, the marathon organizers have decided to change the policy. Event spokesman Lorenzo Nesi told the BBC’s Sportsworld program, “We were quite naive, we didn’t foresee this kind of criticism.”
The last time a Nordic man won the Stockholm Marathon was 2001. Last year, five of the top six runners were from Kenya. The sixth was Ethiopian. Nordic racers have fared better on the women’s side; two Swedes (one of them Kenyan-born) have been among the top female runners in recent years.