Churchgoers in Northern Ireland have blasted a proposal to move Belfast City Marathon to a Sunday from its traditional May Day bank holiday date.
Organisers say nothing has been decided yet, but they confirm that the idea is being considered.
A Sunday event will lead to some Christian participants pulling out because of their beliefs about the Sabbath.
And holding the event on a Sunday will inevitably disrupt numerous worship services held in churches along the marathon’s 26-mile route.
But a bank holiday date costs the police more money in overtime payments and senior police figures are believed to favour the change in date.
David Seaton, who sits on the marathon’s Board, was adamant that “no decision” had been made in relation to the controversial switch.
He said: “We are a democratic organisation and there is no way that a decision will be taken without full and proper consultation.
“Personally, I can see the benefits for having the marathon on either a Monday or a Sunday, but we must take account of everyone’s views and some of the comments which have been made so far do not reflect that process”.
Northern Ireland Sports Minister, the DUP’s Nelson McCausland, said: “This is a matter, which as Sports Minister I have no control over”.
Expressing his “personal view”, Mr McCausland said running the event on a Sunday would “eliminate a section of the community who wish to worship on a Sunday”.
“I would urge the organisers to reconsider this matter,” Mr McCausland said.
Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers, who sits on the council’s Development Committee which unanimously passed the proposal last week, revealed a number of churches across the city have already expressed disappointment.
Stressing his own reservations over the move, the former Lord Mayor said: “I can see difficulties in certain parts of Belfast with people wanting to go to their place of worship. There is no way churches would be prepared to change the time of their services to accommodate the time of the marathon.”
He added: “There is always a worry that numbers will be less. We have kept going with our marathon, while other countries and cities have seen theirs fall to the wayside. I don’t like this approach that all of a sudden people want to change the day.”
Christine Porter of Banbridge is running in this year’s event but will not run in future events if they are held on a Sunday.
She told newspapers that she would not feel comfortable partaking in such a recreational event on the Sabbath.
“The way things are going these days people don’t make a difference between a Sunday and any other day of the week,” she said.
“There are six days to do everything else that needs to be done. There is no reason why we need to break into the Sabbath and treat it like a normal working day.”
An editorial in the Belfast News Letter said: “The marathon is unique in that it snakes right around our capital city and on Sundays would cause major disruption for people going to and from their places of worship.
“Many Christians would find it impossible to take part in the marathon on a Sunday and that means lost revenue for charities which get a huge boost from the big day.
“It seems a pity that Belfast City Council is considering changing something that already works extremely well. Surely some imaginative thinking from the PSNI could reduce their overtime costs and every single person who wants to take part in the marathon would be able to do so, without disrupting the lives of people who want to go to church.”