Article date: 15th March 2020

Race Cancellations and COVID-19

You will enter ‘B’ and ‘C’ races that will allow you to learn and adapt. In this scenario, imagine the Race Directors who are planning the races that you will attend. Just as you plan and prepare, so do they, typically one-year in advance so that when the time comes you have a slick, well-prepared event that will allow you to achieve your goal. Planning and working on a race really is a labour of love and yes, it’s a business. Race Directors usually start planning immediately after the end of one event. Budgets are worked out, a timeline is put in place and then a team of people, headed by the RD, put a plan in action. This will involve route planning, course marking, providing gpx files, booking venues, planning medical care, arranging for catering, advertising the race, booking cars, maintaining a website, booking a timing system, arranging for photography/video and the list goes on… It is endless! To secure services, many of these items are paid well in advance of the race and in most scenarios, a non-refundable deposit will have been paid and at worst, a full balance to ensure that no problems arise. As an event approaches, typically 8-weeks or less before the event, all invoices are paid and the RD can sit back knowing that a job is well done. The race fee that you the runner pays doesn’t just cover the day or multiple days of the race, it covers a year or work! Now imagine you are the RD. You have been diligent; you have crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s. You are, you think, prepared for any eventuality and then Covid-19 comes along and rips your world apart. Through no fault of your own, your race is cancelled because one needs to take responsibility for the health and safety of not only runners, but staff and their teams. In many situations, this decision is often taken away from the RD as it comes from a government level. I am asking you all to take stock of the situation, sit back and take time to reflect on the RD, the team of people involved in the race and the implications of cancelling or postponement. I personally arrived in Hong Kong in January only to find that as my plane landed in HK, the race I was arriving for was cancelled due to the ever-changing Covid-19 virus. So, as a runner what can you do? First of all, there is immense disappointment for each of us on a personal level as an event that we have prepared and dreamed of is removed. Then attention turns to several scenarios:
  • Can I change my travel plans and what will the cost be?
  • Can I get a refund on the race?
  • Will the race postpone and plan for later in the year?’
  • Will the race defer my place and give me entry next year?
  • What about my hotel booking?
The list goes on. Let’s be clear here, the Covid-19 scenario is impacting on the world at an unprecedented level. Just yesterday, Omar Hassan writing in The Independent stated that:
‘Coronavirus will bankrupt more people than it kills – and that is a real global emergency.’
Millions of dollars have been wiped from the financial markets but this impact filters down and down to a grass roots level and the impact will be huge for all of us.
 ‘If the virus does directly affect your life, it is most likely to be through stopping you going to work, forcing your employer to make you redundant, or bankrupting your business.’
So, when asking the RD and race for a refund on race entry, please just take time to step back and think, in these special circumstances, can you afford to let that fee go so that you can at least provide an opportunity for that race to return the following year. Most races will have insurance, but having spoken with multiple insurance experts, the general consensus is, ‘Successful claims under business interruption coverage for infection are not common… Indeed, for example, there are no reported cases in the United States regarding business interruption coverage in connection with human infectious disease epidemics or pandemics.’ – via stroock.com Even sport specific insurance companies who look after runners/ sports people doing ‘extreme’ sports are confirming that there is no cover for disease, virus or pandemic. In the last week, Ultra-Trail Mount FujiMadeira Island Ultra TrailUltra Skymarathon Madeira and so many more have had to pull the plug on a 2020 event. Even the iconic Marathon des Sables has had to postpone and the financial impact of this is still yet to be seen.
In the words of one Race Director, ‘When the Government cancel all Sport Events or public gatherings we are in big trouble, insurance does not cover us in case of pandemics.’
Masako Suzuki, of Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji recently sent out a press release and in it he says:
‘…we apologize for causing great trouble to racers who have been training and preparing for this race, volunteers who have participated in the course maintenance thus far, volunteers who were planning to work during the race, and UTMF supporters including sponsors, companies participating in the UTMF Expo, public and private organisations, and local people.’
The impact is far reaching, cancellations are happening everywhere, and racing is just one aspect. Schools are closing, employees are being asked to work from home, airlines are reducing flights daily and asking staff to go on unpaid leave, hotels are empty, and restaurants are closing. Covid-19 is without doubt a health crisis but it is also an economic crisis.
“It may one day be said that the coronavirus delivered the deathblow to the New World Order, to a half-century of globalization and to the era of interdependence of the world’s great nations.” – WND here
One of the key jobs of a race team is risk management, many races, UTMF, MIUT, USM and so on all started to look at logistics and emergency planning long before the decision to cancel was made. The money is spent! So please, when you ask for a refund or deferment, just ask the question,
‘Can I let my fee go for 2020?’
And in the process, hopefully, the race you entered will be around in 2021. It is highly likely that some races will not recover from this but we as runner’s and a community, in a small way, can help keep the sport we love alive to fight for another time.
‘I have been organising #USM for some years now with a fantastic team. We always aimed high because we were convinced, he had a SUPER event. We still do,’ João Canning Clode announced via Facebook, ‘This was the most difficult decision we had to take in all these years. But the health and safety of our athletes, teams, local community, fans and volunteers is of vital importance. We move on…’
As a closing note, we all need perspective. Covid-19 is killing people daily and my heart aches for the distress and loss from this pandemic. Italy, as an example, have been hit so very hard and they have now entered Wartime Triage. This is truly catastrophic for all. But the government have stepped up to the plate and suspended payments on mortgages. When asked about the possibility of halting mortgage payments on Radio Anch’io, Laura Castelli, the deputy economy minister, said: ‘Yes, that will be the case, for individuals and households.’ I applaud that leadership and foresight. We can all learn a lesson from this action.
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