By Jonathan Gault
January 22, 2019
For years, the Dubai Marathon has attracted world-class fields to the Persian Gulf by offering up the richest first-place prize in marathoning: $200,000. The result has been a series of hyper-competitive races as some of the world’s top marathoners — most of them Ethiopian — chase life-altering cash. There have only been four marathons in history in which four men broke 2:05; three of them came in Dubai (the fourth was the extremely wind-aided 2011 Boston Marathon). There have only been three marathons in history in which six women broke 2:22; all three of them came in Dubai. Last year’s race was the deepest yet, as a staggering seven men broke 2:05, with six at 2:04:15 or faster, while four women broke 2:20 — all easily the most of any marathon in history.
This year, however, there won’t be nearly as much cash on offer as Dubai has cut its elite prize money by more than half, from $816,000 in 2018 to $385,000 in 2019. Dubai also offers a small payout ($9,800) to the top UAE citizens; that amount remains unchanged for the 2019 edition, which will take place on Friday.
Below are this year’s payouts for first through tenth place in the men’s marathon compared to last year’s (the women’s payout structure is identical). All values are in US dollars.
|Total (men’s + women’s)||385,000||816,000|
The first Dubai Marathon was first held in 2000, but the event took off in 2008 when the Government of Dubai increased the total prize money to $1 million, including $250,000 for first place. Lured by those riches and a $1 million world record bonus, Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie won the 2008 edition in 2:04:53, lowering the course record by almost five minutes and coming just 27 seconds short of his own world record. The $1 million prize pool remained in place through 2012, and according to the Association of Road Racing Statisticians, Dubai was the world’s richest marathon in terms of total prize money every year from 2008 through 2017 (the ARRS website is no longer updated following the death of statistician Ken Young in February 2018).
Below is how Dubai’s prize money — past and present — stacks up to some of the world’s richest marathons.
|2018 Dubai||2019 Dubai||Boston||New York||Chicago||London|
|1st place (single-gender)||200,000||100,000||150,000||100,000||100,000||55,000|
|Total open division prize $||816,000||385,000||706,000||534,000||560,000||313,000|
|Total running prize $||825,800||394,800||746,000||700,000||705,000||316,500|
Prize money data taken from race websites and does not include time or record bonuses. All totals in US dollars.
Calculating prize money totals is an inexact science, as each marathon follows its own protocol in terms of how it divides its prize money between different divisions (open, national, masters, wheelchair). In addition, there are time and record bonuses and appearance fees, which are not disclosed publicly; the London Marathon’s prize money is relatively low compared to other majors like New York or Boston, but it makes up for that with the biggest appearance fees in the sport. At the end of the day, London annually hosts the best men’s and women’s fields in the world because if one includes in appearance fees and time bonuses (they offer a $100,000 bonus for a sub-2:05 time, for example), they have the largest budget in the world and it’s not even close.
Regardless, after the dramatic reduction in prize money, it is clear that Dubai is no longer close to being one of the richest marathons in the sport.
One other development that should not be overlooked: in December 2018, another emirate, Abu Dhabi, staged the first Abu Dhabi Marathon, with comparable prize money to Dubai ($100,000 for first, $358,000 total for the open division). Given the races’ close proximity to one another on the calendar and the similar prize money, they will be competing for the same talent pool moving forward.
UPDATE: Dubai Marathon event director Peter Connerton has released a statement explaining why the prize money was cut in 2019:
“The Dubai Marathon prize money is reduced for 2019 as a result of the decision by the IAAF to exclude the Dubai Marathon from the opportunity of becoming a Platinum Label in the new athletics event ranking system. The Dubai Marathon, with the support of the Government of Dubai, has since 2018 contributed over $11 million in prize money — tax free — to the marathon event attracting to its shores some of the biggest names in the sport, including Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele.
“Unfortunately, the hierarchy of the sport has decided for a marathon to achieve a Platinum Label it must have 15,000 finishers in the event of the label applied for. This by default excludes Dubai from that category. After contributing so much to the sport since 2018 we feel let down by the sport after the Government’s initiative back in 2007 to promote Dubai and the Marathon.
“For the time being, we are going to continue our policy of paying very good prize money ($100,000 for both winners), but not appearance money, as other top races do. Because we believe it’s the performance on the day that counts.”