Yesterday, the Municipality of Tirana hosted a half marathon that passed through the centre of the city. While the event was a success with some 1700 participants from 42 countries, the Municipality were criticised for a number of points relating to poor organisation.
Firstly, the main boulevard of the city was blocked, cutting through a total of seven arterial roads. In addition to this, parts of Rruga Kavaje, Rruga Papa Gjon Pali II, Rruga Ismail Qemali, Rruga Ibrahim Rugova, Rruga 28 Nentori, and Boulevard Bajram Curri were also closed, bringing Tirana city centre to a standstill. Whilst many other countries hold marathons and close roads, the centre of Tirana was impossible to navigate yesterday, even for pedestrians, with several ambulances seen stuck in traffic unable to pass.
Really disappointed with @BashkiaTirane littering with these balloons today. Supposed to be a positive event yet no regard for the impact this has on wildlife and the environment. Shame. #albania #tirana #NoPlasticWaste #plasticfree pic.twitter.com/7K3q83mcLA
— Alice Taylor (@The_Balkanista) October 13, 2019
Secondly, prior to the start of the marathon, Municipality employees released over 100 balloons into the sky with no concern over the environmental impact. Balloon releases are illegal in a number of countries as well as many states in the USA and UK due to the risk the deflated balloons pose to wildlife, domestic animals, and sea life.
Once balloons are released they travel until they have deflated to the point that they fall to earth. The material they are made of ends up littering the countryside or ending up in the ocean where they are often devoured by sea life including turtles and fish who mistake them for jellyfish and other prey. Once ingested by sea life they cause a slow and painful death.
They also pose a risk for flight safety and are considered wasteful due to the fact that helium is a limited resource which is expected to run out within a generation.
According to Mayor Erion Veliaj, littering is an offence punishable by a financial penalty, yet the Municipality has intentionally littered by releasing these balloons. Unless they can personally account for and then recover every single balloon that was released they should be held accountable for this and fined accordingly.
Swedish environmental activist Camilla Appelgren who ran for Malta in the recent MEP elections was horrified by an image she saw of the balloon release and contacted the Municipality to ask that they refrain from such actions in the future.
“We live in a time where we are VERY aware that plastic pollution is a big threat and it will affect the future generations negatively.I kindly ask you to next time officially ban this and take a stand for the sake of our future generation,” she said in an email which as of yet, has gone unanswered.
A number of participants in the event were seen turning their backs in protest as Mayor Veliaj took to the stage. Youth organisation, Organizata Politike also held up a banner saying “running for free water, Tirana without water” referring to the fact that most of Tirana has had either no water, or a limited supply since June.
Lastly, concerns were raised over the number of plastic bottles of water which were handed out to runners yesterday. Several thousand single-use bottles were used and as Albania has no recycling facility, these will have either been incinerated or sent to landfill. There are various alternatives to single-use plastics including paper cups.
Furthermore, the Municipality failed to properly clear the thousands of bottles from areas where the race took place. Hundreds of bottles were found strewn around the park hours later, despite the bins being emptied.
First place in the men’s half marathon went to Kenyan Abel Kibet Rop, and Luiza Gega in the women’s. The men’s 10k was won by Bahrainian citizen Nelson Kipogei Cherutich, and Ruth Nundu Mbatha from Kenya in the women’s event.
I came in at 444th place in the 10k, but managed to raise some EUR 300 for a cause championing media freedom, journalistic independence, and freedom of speech.