October 27, 2020
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Why I don’t want to pay for your marathon

My neighbour, a fit and feisty man, has been running a marathon in his back garden.

He now intends to crown this feat with some incredible number of press-up – a hundred or a million, something huge anyway. And he is planning an equal number of forward thrusts. At least I think that’s what he said. I didn’t like to inquire too closely. So long as only consenting adults are involved.

He is raising funds for a local football club and I have agreed to contribute. His wife, who is filming it all on her phone, tells me I can watch his efforts online. Watch? Dear god, is it not enough that I have to subsidise these efforts without being expected to watch them as well.

The football club in question does a great job and I am very happy to contribute to its coffers. But I would be happier to contribute directly, rather than by the roundabout route of paying my neighbour for something he loves to do anyway.

This sort of sponsorship blackmail seems to have increased since Covid forced us all to limit our social engagements.

We’ve nothing better to do with our time, I guess. So the boys at one end of the road are hurling against a wall to raise funds for animal welfare and the girls at the other end are planning a record number of keepy-ups to help a hospital.

All good causes that I am happy to support. And all healthy, harmless activities that these young folk are welcome to indulge in. But what’s the connection? Why do they feel they must compete in some pointless pursuit before I will part with my money?

The trade-off is not required for simpler forms of giving.

If I hand some cash to a homeless person in the street, I don’t request that he first gets up and runs around the block a few times. If I donate some food to a St Vincent de Paul appeal I don’t expect the recipients to prove their worthiness by pushing a bed from Dublin to Cork.

So why is sponsorship seen as a necessary part of so many charity efforts?

The Covid crisis has, at least, put a stop to madder ventures like the bed-push and also to people who want others to pay for their holiday in return for them making a donation to charity.

If they want to walk the Camino, that’s grand. If they want to climb the Andes, all fine and dandy. And if I want to contribute to Trócaire or Oxfam, that ‘s  my business. Why should these worthy but quite unrelated ventures be linked by sponsorship?

There used to be a more straightforward way of  charity fundraising. Whatever happened to flag days?
They once were commonplace. And they worked very simply. The collector carried a box marked with the name of the charity. He, or more usually she, waved it in your direction. If you didn’t care for the cause, you walked on.

Otherwise you dropped a few coins in the box and were rewarded with a sticky badge (the flag) which you could smugly point at when the next collector loomed into view.

Have these clear-cut collections gone out of fashion? It’s quite some time since I’ve seen one.

A flag-day transaction was swift and, while individual contributions might not have been large, the total raised could be substantial.

The flag sellers did a fine job and felt no need to run a marathon or show us their forward thrusts.

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