The organisers of the Belfast Marathon are considering holding talks with churches over plans to move next year’s marathon to a Sunday.
Churchgoers in Northern Ireland criticised proposals, announced last month, to move Belfast City Marathon to a Sunday from its traditional May Day bank holiday date.
The chairman of Belfast City Marathon, Danny O’Connor, said marathons were run around the world on Sundays with the support of churches.
Mr O’Connor said: “We don’t have to stick with the current route, we don’t have to start at 9am — we will be looking at all of those things”.
“We would look to talk to the churches involved and we will take it from there”, he insisted.
In a letter to the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Presbyterian Moderator Dr Stafford Carson warned that the congregations of around 40 churches close to the race route could face congestion if the marathon was moved to a Sunday.
Dr Carson said he recognised the marathon was of great importance to Belfast, but added: “By running the event on a Sunday, I am concerned that many churchgoers and Christians will no longer be able to give the event their full support.”
He said: “If the marathon starts at its usual time (9am) this will clash directly with morning services resulting in congestion and difficulty for people travelling to and from their place of worship.”
Mr Carson said many Christians did not want to take part in sport on Sundays.
“This will therefore diminish one of the very positive benefits that the Belfast City Marathon has brought to our community life and will exclude those who are committed to their local church on a Sunday,” he said.
The Chair of the Development Committee at Belfast City Council, DUP councillor William Humphrey, said the council would make a decision next month.
A decision was expected at a Belfast City Council meeting last night. But Mr Humphrey said the matter would instead be considered at committee level at the request of some Ulster Unionist councillors.
More than 15,000 people took part in this year’s marathon which took place on Bank Holiday Monday. The 26 mile route started at the City Hall at 9am and finishes at Ormeau Park in south Belfast.
An editorial in the Belfast News Letter last month, 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.”