Bitter almonds

Following last year’s low-key opening of the new Algarve Stadium and this month’s last-minute cancellation of football’s Winter Cup, the Algarve’s Regional Tourism Authority (RTA) has suspended the running of the 28th International Cross-Country Almond Run, scheduled to take place in Vilamoura on February 8. The move puts an end to 27 years of continuous history of one of the Algarve’s most important and prestigious sporting events.

This time, the RTA did not come out with lame excuses such as the possibility of bad weather, or being unable to guarantee the presence of competing teams, but faced the hard truth – there is no money available to stage the race. Of the 170,000 euros required, only a quarter could be raised, leading to the controversial decision to abandon the important IAAF event. In the past, great athletes, such as Olympic champions Carlos Lopes and Rosa Mota, have competed in Vilamoura, but in recent years the quality of the race has been in decline, with top runners choosing alternative events that offer more lucrative prize money instead.

In a joint statement issued by the RTA and the AAA, the organisations said that the costs of the event had become insupportable, explaining: “In spite of support from Lusotur and the RTA agreeing to bear 50 per cent of the cost of this year’s event, without a major contribution from public or private sponsors, neither the RTA nor the Athletics Association can supply the funds necessary to maintain the quality of the race.” A spokesman also highlighted that the fact that the event is now televised had added another 45,000 euros to the cost, a further outlay which neither the RTA nor the AAA were able to meet because of what he called “known budgetary constraints”.

The RTA and the AAA have promised to try to organise greater sponsorship in advance of next year’s event, but the cancellation has drawn criticism from other Algarve organisations. A spokesman from the hotel association AHETA said it vehemently condemned the decision. “The financial difficulties that the RTA is passing through cannot serve as an excuse for the cancellation of the race, jeopardising the future of one of the sporting events that has contributed the most to the national and international prestige of the Algarve,” he commented. The spokesman also criticised what he described as “the failure of those linked to the event to resolve questions related to sponsorship and financial support.”

The cancellation has also caused a political storm, with questions being raised in parliament by Socialist Deputies as to why the Ministry of Economics and Tourism was unable to save one of the most important events on the region’s sporting calendar.