It is a long established truth that runners are inherently awkward people. They run where and when they want, without heed for irate farmers, golfers, motorists, or police, for that matter. They are not given to taking advice on anything, unless it’s a new training regime or food fad (doubly so in the case of ‘born-again joggers’, but that’s another story). Like fishermen, they like nothing more than meeting up with a mate/rival, for a burn-up, while regaling them with unlikely tales of training feats that would have put (80 x 400m reps man) Emil Zatopek to shame.
However, should you live in Bujumbura (I know it’s unlikely – you may not even know where it is, but stay with me on this), then your days of going for a training spin with your mates are at an end. Because the mayor of Bujumbura, Saidi Juma has banned running ‘groups’ (defined as two people or more) on the streets of the Burundian capital. This edict comes in the wake of a ‘group jog’ in March by members of the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Development (MSD) party. The jog, described by the Mayor as an ‘uprising’ and a ‘rebellion’, was broken up by the police using tear-gas, and mass arrests took place. Following the event, MSD party leader, Alexis Sinduhije is said to be, ahem, on the run.
However, 71 of his colleagues are awaiting trial, and if found guilty, face life in jail. For jogging!
I am grateful to my erudite colleague, Tim Johnston (eighth in the Mexico Olympic Marathon) for alerting me to this parlous state of affairs in the Burundian capital. A long-time traveller to some of the most obscure parts of our planet, Tim is a fervent ‘hasher’. For the uninitiated, the Hash House Harriers, founded in the Far East around 70 years ago is an excuse for a running rabble to chase a colleague (the classic ‘hare and hounds’ origin of distance running) around a variety of streets and bars, imbibing as they go. Tim fears quite reasonably that Juma’s proscription of running ‘groups’ will signal an end, in Bujumbura at least, to the civilising influence that hashing has had on a long list of Third World countries in the past half century and more.
Seeking to reassure those sports clubs which are not fronts for rebellion, Ms Kazatsa added that events could now only take place in, “grounds and stadiums that have been identified and designated for that purpose by the mayor”.
One can only presume that H3 will have to set up trestle tables in lanes two and three of the local stadium, and load them with booze; to ensure that the free spirits who have been such a civilising influence on these far-flung outposts of Empire can continue their invaluable work.