Members of Sanctuary Runners at a training session at the Mardyke Arena UCC, Cork in preparation for the Cork City Marathon earlier this year. (Picture: Clare Keogh)

The Sanctuary Runner movement, which started in Ireland in February 2018, has been short-listed for a prestigious EU Sport Inclusion Award by the European Commission. 

Now with groups across Ireland in a dozen different locations, the Sanctuary Runners connect Irish residents with asylum seekers and refugees through running.

The Movement which focusses on Solidarity, Friendship and Respect, has 1,200 members across Ireland with groups in Cork, Mallow, Killarney, Limerick, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Athlone, Longford, Dublin, Wicklow and Waterford.

Short-listed for the #BeInclusive Sports Inclusion Awards, the Sanctuary Runners is one of nine initiatives – from 144 entries from across Europe – to make the short list.

Fermoy journalist Graham Clifford, founder of the Sanctuary Runners, said: “This is a massive moment in our development. We’re delighted to receive such external approval for our efforts which are making such a difference to the lives of Irish people and our friends in Direct Provision. 

“Labels such as citizen, resident, asylum seeker and refugee disappear once we pull on our blue running tops. We see each other as people first and foremost and that message of solidarity is key to who and what we are.”

Raising awareness

Next year the Sanctuary Runners plan to have 1,000 Sanctuary Runners in the Cork City Marathon in June, 2020 and to stage a Solidarity Run with Migrants in Tokyo during the Olympic Games there.

“We’re so proud that the Sanctuary Runner concept was born in Cork. With the help and support of Cork City Council and the Tomar Trust, we’ve been able to grow the movement nationally and now we’re looking at developing it outside of Ireland as well. We believe its something we, as Irish people, should be proud of.

“It’s a simple idea but one which can have such a significant impact. And it raises awareness of the conditions inside Direct Provision. It allows us to get to know the people behind the gates who are often isolated, feared and ignored. 

“And you don’t have to be a runner to join us, we have joggers too, and walkers as well as people who help out with drives, who bake cakes for social get togethers, who take pictures and help out with other aspects. We laugh, we cry, we run.”

Since their first run, the Sanctuary Runners have been supported by former Olympians such as Sonia O’Sullivan, Rob and Marian Heffernan, Olive Loughnane, Claire Lambe and Lizzie Lee as well as Kerry GAA legend Tomas Ó Sé.

The Sanctuary Runners is not a charity but it is seeking sponsorship from corporates, trusts and local authorities as it continues to grow. In the autumn of 2018 it partnered with the parkrun organisation. 

To find out more about the Sanctuary Runners visit or email