High-risk sports tournaments suspended in China after the deadly marathon accident
Published: Jun 03, 2021 01:19 AM
A contestant in a marathon dashes through a village of ethnic Miao people in Jishou, Central China’s Hunan Province on Sunday. Some 1,500 runners joined the race through the mountainous landscape. Photo: cnsphoto

A contestant in a marathon dashes through a village of ethnic Miao people in Jishou, Central China’s Hunan Province. Photo: cnsphoto

Mountain trail running and other high-risk sports are suspended across China from Wednesday, China's General Administration of Sport announced, vowing to improve the regulation of emerging high-risk sports after the recent deadly marathon accident in Northwest China's Gansu Province.

The events that have been suspended include mountain trail running, hiking in the Gobi desert, wingsuit flying and ultra-long distance races. For emerging high-risk sports, the General Administration of Sport vows to improve the regulation system and set standards and norms to address imprecise management responsibilities, ambiguous rules, and unclear safety and protection standards.

The suspension came after the deadly accident during a marathon in Gansu on May 22 that took 21 lives caused by unexpected extreme weather conditions. Many participants and veteran runners pointed out that planning for the race was flawed and organizers were not prepared for an emergency. They said the tragedy could have been avoided if the organizers had had a clear guidelines for such events. 

After the tragic accident at least 10 cross-country races, including mountain running races, trail hikes and regular marathons, have been cancelled or postponed, taking a step back to focus on safety. 

In recent years, trail running races have become popular in China. According to data provided by the China Athletics Association, the number of running events held in China each year is close to 2,000. Extreme events such as mountain trail running are also increasing. However, many organizers of these events do not take risks into consideration leading to occasional deaths. In May 2021 alone, at least three off-road racing events have caused deaths in China.

Since trail running is a relatively new sport in China, most of the domestic organizers lack experience and often just pursue difficult locations but the design of the racecourse is unreasonable and the logistical support for the runners is not up to date, Chen Penbin, China's top ultramarathon runner, told the Global Times on Wednesday. "Safety hazards have always existed; hence the introduction of relevant norms is necessary," Chen mentioned.

The improvement of security in this kind of events will be a gradual process, Chen said. After the suspension, the administration is expected to gradually introduce security measures to avoid similar tragedies in the next season.

Gong, a senior trail and marathon runner who is also part of the organization committee for many local marathons, believes that it is necessary to strengthen the management of the running sports industry. "It helps weed out some companies that are purely profit-oriented and ignore life. Only companies that really have the ability to organize a trail marathon can survive."

"It will surely affect the income of some runners and organizers as many marathon events have been canceled, but for runners and athletes, it is also an opportunity to consider the events that they want to register for rather than being attracted by prices offered by some small organizers who do not have enough ability to guarantee the safety of runners."