Revive bridge run for a start

IN the north, they have the Penang Bridge Run, while the Standard Chartered KL Marathon is the talk of the Central Region come October every year. Sabah and Sarawak have the Mt Kinabalu International Climbathon and Regatta Lepa.

But what do we have to show in Johor? Nothing. Isn't that a shame considering that with Iskandar Malaysia, we are supposed to be the "most happening" place in the country.

Well, to be fair, the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda) did initiate the Iskandar Johor Open (IJO) golf tournament in 2007.

It eventually became a championship co-sanctioned by the Asian and European tours and was touted as one of the richest events in this part of the world with a purse of US$2 million. With that kind of money, the IJO naturally attracted an intriguing mix of professional golfers who merely came to claim the whopping prize money.

Very little was achieved from IJO by way of tourism receipts or worldwide TV exposure about Johor, despite claims to the contrary by the event manager – International Management Group (IMG) – and its media partner, ESPN Sports.

When this hard truth eventually dawned on Irda, the championship fizzled out by the end of the sixth season in 2013. Understandably, corporate sponsors had also pulled out by then. IJO is now effectively dead with no sign of a resurrection anytime soon.

The Johor Tourism Department also tried to put the state on the world map by organising the Desaru Triathlon and Ironman Championships on a yearly basis. But poorly organised, with a glaring lack of publicity, these international events also failed to live up to their promise.

Scenic Desaru was a perfect setting for the events, which had the potential to lift this popular beach resort to international attention. But alas! What do you expect when you leave the crucial details of organising this potentially world-class event in the hands of inexperienced civil servants, who neither had the drive or passion to make a success of it?

However, in 1994, the E- Run (Environment Run) did capture the imagination and support of the masses and was a roaring success.

Jointly organised by the then Puteri Pan Pacific Hotel and New Straits Times, it was a unique non-competitive mass participation run with an environmental theme.

Every year for the six years that it was organised, 5,000-odd people from all walks of life turned up to drive home the 3R message – reduce, reuse, recycle.
It was an opportunity for companies to support this "green cause" by signing up as corporate sponsors, with proceeds channelled to school environmental projects.

What a marvellous project E-Run turned out to be. The support, camaraderie, carnival-like atmosphere and the sheer joy of seeing entire families turn up in full to take part was quite something.

Regrettably, E-Run ran its course after its sixth year, with management changes at both the Puteri Pan Pacific Hotel and NST.

But the event did produce an off-shoot – the Johor-Singapore 2nd Link Bridge Run. Launched in 2000, this was a massive event, drawing as many as 15,000 runners from both sides of the border.

It was a showcase of the "special friendship" Johor and Singapore enjoyed at the time … a testimony of the fact that despite our political differences, we are essentially one people bound by a common destiny and with family ties running across both borders.

Indeed, both sides took turns to organise the event every year, with the Johor mentri besar and a Singapore cabinet minister jointly flagging off the run in Gelang Patah.

Those were the days when economic and trade rivalry did not stand in the way of social ties, when travel between both sides was easy and convenient.

More importantly, despite our differences, we were willing to come together in the true spirit of bilateral friendship and goodwill as evidenced by the thousands from Singapore who signed up every year for this great run.

Sadly, the Bridge Run fizzled out after 2005, leaving many to wonder why. Only the politicians on both sides of the border can answer this probing question.
What really puts you down in the dumps about all these is that there has not been a single event since 2005 to captivate, enthral and move people to take part in a mass participation function.

We need such an initiative now more than ever before, what with all the talk of race and religion putting us asunder as 1Malaysia.

We need someone to come up with an idea that draws us together as one people, irrespective of our background in a true show of friendship, solidarity, unity, harmony and goodwill.

One would have thought Irda, with all the manpower and resources at its disposal, would be the ideal organ to take the initiative and organise this noble task.

Perhaps, this is the task for the corporate big guns in Johor … at least they would have the passion and dedication to do a better job at it.

Roy, a long-time resident of JB, is a keen watcher of economic, political and social trends on both sides of the Johor Straits. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com