Coronavirus Threatens Marathons and Other Events

Posted by Stuart Morrison on

London Marathon

The outbreak of Coronavirus (Covid-19) is casting a worrying shadow over future running events. Runners, who are taking great efforts training for upcoming 10Ks, half marathons, marathons, and the rest, are seeing their ambitions threatened with the threat of cancellations.

Significant race cancellations / exclusions so far (March 2020)
To date there haven't been many race cancellations or similar. However, there have been a few significant examples, affecting many runners.

Tokyo Marathon
The race took place. However, all but the elite runners were excluded, affecting near 35,000 participants.

Paris Marathon
Concerns about Covid-19 has resulted in postponement. The race has been rescheduled to 18 October.

Rome Marathon
Italy is suffering worse than most countries. As part of a huge an effort to slow the spread of disease the Rome Marathon has been cancelled.

Rome Marathon

Coronavirus in the UK
With the outbreak and spread of Coronavirus in the UK, measures are being considered to slow the advance of the disease. One of these is to ban large sporting events. The theory is that by preventing people from congregating in large groups, there will be a reduction in the number of new infections. It's a fair argument, and seems to make a lot of sense. But will it work? And is there a better option?

The fate of the London Marathon is possibly the best example of what's in store. To date, it's still going ahead. However, the organisers have put out press releases letting us know that they are considering their options. Similarly, the government's Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has said he's prepared to cancel the event if needed. Any cancellation would be a great disappointment to 35,000 runners who will have invested months of preparation, including training and dietary restraint. And if we add in all the other marathons (Manchester, Edinburgh, Newport, Belfast, etc), half marathons and other races, the number of runners affected could easily be in the hundreds of thousands.

At the time of writing, these (delay phase) measures are on hold. Whether this will continue, we can't be sure.

Arguments for and against cancelling
So, what are the arguments for and against the cancelling of these events?

For : 
1. Potentially prevent the spread of disease to many others.
One infected runner could potentially infect many others, at baggage queues, at the start line, during the race, etc. Cancelling prevents this.

2. Valuable emergency services are needed to support these events. 
Medical professionals are often used to help support large sports events. They could be better used to help the infected.

Against :
1. People may run the route regardless. 
Every year thousands of runners organise their own running events around the London Marathon (and other races). An example are the many groups who run the 'Nohtaram Nodnol' (London Marathon in reverse) in the early morning from the finish line to the start line in Greenwich. Cancellation may simply push runners towards running in one of these unofficial races.

2. Big events give medical professionals an opportunity to educate and promote good habits such as the use of hand sanitiser.
Ensuring that the event goes ahead provides the opportunity to promote healthy behaviour (announcements and leaflets) and provide hand sanitiser to the participants and spectators. Recent races (e.g. Cambridge Half Marathon) have been taking this approach, and so far no cases of Covid-19 have been attributed to these events.

3. Charities will lose out
Many charities could suffer significant losses. Because of the large sums involved, particularly at the London Marathon, the amount lost could have quite a detrimental impact on the ability to these organisation to continue their current level of care.

We're obviously a bit biased, and are inclined to support the arguments against cancelling.

Hand sanitiser

What would we do
Our solution would be to allow the London Marathon and other races to go ahead. Having a controlled event would, as stated, allow the medical professionals to promote good safety measures / etiquette while providing any necessary extra provisions (e.g. distribution of hand sanitiser). 

We don't see any great need to limit numbers. Our opinion is that the Tokyo Marathon move was quite an over-reaction. However, we do appreciate that there may be extra logistical considerations, such as those described above. If it has to happen we hope it won't be quite as strict. Our proposal would be that allowing elites + club runners + charity runners + some first-timers up to a set cut-off time  would be a suitable compromise. Other successful entrants could be offered guaranteed entry in 2021. We're not race organisers, but think that would be fair.