Sport solidarity, not Sport relief

Sarah McDonald and other comrades will be running the Vienna marathon to raise money for Iranian Workers, here she explains why you should show support

The threat of war in the Middle East is increasing daily. The drums are beating especially loudly in Israel, and the Iranian people are facing a fight on two fronts: against imperialist intervention and against the Iranian regime. Now, more than ever, we must show active solidarity.

Workers Fund Iran was set up in December 2005. It aims to reduce and relieve poverty amongst Iranian workers (both employed and unemployed), who are victims both of the economic policies of the Iranian regime and the sanctions imposed by imperialism. It aims to put at the centre of its activities the need to rebuild international working class solidarity, directly with the workers of Iran. WFI is involved in many fundraising activities to support its work, ranging from solidarity meals to solidarity cricket (!). Yet another WFI tradition is perhaps the ultimate test: marathon running. The last such event with WFI participation was in Berlin, where well over €500 was raised last September. This year, 40 WFI runners will be pounding the streets of Vienna in the name of international solidarity.

Last August, as I was whiling away another pleasant summer’s day in the CPGB office, I was asked if I’d be up for running a marathon at some point over the next year. “Why not?” I replied. Words I have come to regret uttering on many an occasion over the past eight months or so (normally somewhere around the 18km mark during a training stint). Having been a semi-competent middle-distance runner for the last six or seven years, I wasn’t quite starting from scratch - but going from the concept of running 26.2 miles to the reality of it is … well, painful.

So a small squad of us registered for the Vienna marathon (the point, for me at least, where the idea become a reality). Since then, we’ve battled the weather, training through the winter’s high winds, cold and rain. We’ve sustained injury (all of us have done ourselves damage at some point through running stupid distances). Now, with less than three weeks to go we’re hoping to make it intact to the finishing line (my personal goal is not to get overtaken by a 70-year-old dressed as a chicken), with a pint of Austria’s finest beer glowing in the sky like a Monty Python-style Holy Grail animation. Though we are looking forward to April 15 (albeit with trepidation!), I think it’s a safe assertion that we’re looking forward even more to April 16 when this is all over (as, I’m sure, are our friends, colleagues, family, etc, who we’ve bored to death with our running tales).

There are important lessons to be learned from this experience (not least, don’t mix isotonic sports drinks with energy gels). By taking part in events that involve active solidarity you get a sense of being a part of something, whether that’s through training, competing with each other (in a comradely fashion, of course), organising meals for the runners, putting on meetings and events around the marathon or planning walking tours exploring the history of Red Vienna. It’s fair to say those who are running and those who are flying across to support us are very much immersed in the event. In essence, our comrades have put in blood, sweat and tears (some of us quite literally).

We are now asking for your support. With two and a half weeks to go, we need all the sponsorship we can get. So, comrades, dig deep! Think of those hours of pounding the pavements and parks; though sleet, snow and iliotibial band syndrome.

The most important lesson, of course, is that it is both possible and urgently necessary for the working class to organise solidarity, not charity. The popularity and universality of sport can greatly assist this process. For example, the BBC’s Sport relief recently saw people in this country raise over £50 million. What a shame that these funds will be frittered away, filtered through the corrupt, bureaucratic and undemocratic apparatuses of bourgeois charity. Surely, our goal as the workers’ movement must be to raise this kind of money and beyond - strengthening the cause of working class self-organisation and combativity across the globe. The funds we raise right now will, of course, be much smaller. But they are symbolically important, and point towards what our movement could achieve.

We would also urge comrades to show their support for the Iranian people by attending the Hands Off the People of Iran school in central London over the weekend of the April 21-22. There will also be a full update of how our marathon runners got on in Vienna and you can, of course, buy us a well deserved pint in the pub afterwards.

You can sponsor us by going to http://hopoi.org/?page_id=11 (please clearly state the purpose of the donation: ie, Workers Fund Iran marathon). We would very much appreciate your support!