altMAY 16 - VIRGIN has signed a new £17 million deal to become the sponsor of the London Marathon in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics, it was announced today.

Virgin Money, the financial services division of the Virgin Group will lead the sponsorship with the ambition of supporting the event and the runners in their attempts to raise even greater amounts of money for good causes across the five-year deal.

Virgin hope to encourage runners to raise an amazing £250 million for charity over the five year term of its sponsorship.

The deal, which starts in 2010, will see Virgin take over the sponsorship from current sponsors Flora, who have backed the event for the previous 14 years.

Virgin Founder, Sir Richard Branson said: ‘I’m delighted that Virgin will be sponsoring the London Marathon.

"It’s an epic and inspirational event and raises a fantastic amount of money for great causes.

"It’s the single biggest fundraising day on the planet and we want to make it even bigger, our aim is to help runners smash the quarter-of-a-billion pounds in five years.

"(Chief executive) Jayne-Anne (Gadhia) and the Virgin Money team have got some great ideas to raise more money and together we’re looking forward to putting on a great show for London.’

Over £400 million has been raised for charity by London Marathon fun runners since the race began back in 1981.

Virgin Money are looking at a programme of initiatives to build upon the sense of community and fun the London Marathon enjoys and will use its infrastructure, online capability and expertise to help raise even more money in support of thousands of different charitable causes.

Virgin Money will utilise the expertise and network of Virgin Unite1, the group’s not-for-profit entrepreneurial foundation.

This will include an official partnership in the first year with Virgin Unite Valued Partner CLIC Sargent, who care for children and young people with cancer and leukaemia, in both hospital and the community.

The inaugural London Marathon in 1981 saw 6,255 runners finishing on Constitution Hill and with 34,497 runners crossing the finish line on The Mall in 2008 has continued to be a massive draw to both runners, spectators and television viewers alike.

The event has grown in size, stature and popularity, now well established among the major events in the world’s sporting calendar, the London Marathon is shown on television in more than 150 countries around the world every year.

The 2009 event has already received over 110,000 UK applications for the public ballot.

Gadhia, said: “I am delighted to be announcing this deal.

"The London Marathon is both an iconic sporting occasion and a special day full of endeavour, fantastic stories and fundraising.

"The London Marathon 2010 will be the 30th in its rich history and we want to make sure it is the biggest and best yet.

"We’re working on some ideas that will raise even more money for good causes and we’ll be aiming to help the runners to continue to blow all other fund raising events out of the water.

"The London Marathon is a true record breaking event.”

Race director David Bedford said: “I cannot think of a better and more appropriate sponsor for the 2010 London Marathon than Virgin.

"I am delighted that the event has developed to a level where such a high quality company has agreed to be our new Sponsor. I am expecting a very exciting and stimulating future for the event.”

One of the first developments under the new sponsorship deal will be the creation of a state-of-the-art website to be launched on April 26 2009.

The site will look to bring together the marathon community in one place – not just runners, but their supporters and spectators too.

People will be able to enter the race, find someone to train with, watch celebrities training, download music play lists for different training plans and much more.