OPINIONS Probe ultramarathon tragedy, but don't stop the race


Probe ultramarathon tragedy, but don't stop the race

By Yi Jiandong | chinadaily.com.cn

16:56, May 24, 2021

Rescue workers carry equipment to save runners who were victims of extreme weather during a mountain marathon race in Baiyin, Northwest China's Gansu province, on Saturday. (Photo: China News Service)

The tragedy that left 21 runners dead because of the extreme weather over the weekend during an annual 100-km cross-county mountain marathon race in Northwest China's Baiyin of Gansu province has stirred heated debate online.

Some criticized the race, saying ultramarathon should not be held any more in China, and some even blamed runners for risking their lives to participate in the competition.

The tragedy needs thorough investigation, and lessons should be learned to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. The problems exposed in the tragedy, such as local authorities' poor capabilities in handling emergencies, prove how important strict standards and quality sports services are essential in holding such extreme sports races.

Although the incident was mainly caused by the weather, the local organizer should shoulder the responsibility for the lack of emergency preparations.

The depopulated zone that participants must run through is too large, and the race depot sites were too few to meet the demands of runners. Meanwhile, the organizer did not ask runners to dress for winter-like conditions in advance, with many wearing short-sleeves. Therefore, when hail, freezing rain and gale-force winds suddenly hit the high-altitude race, participants suffered from physical discomfort due to the sudden drop in air temperature.

The tragedy has sent alarm bells ringing on the booming sports events. It's high time for the authorities to tighten regulations on such extreme sports. So the General Administration of Sport of China's meeting on Sunday night, which said sports games should put people's lives first, is quite timely and necessary.

Yet the accident should not halt the development of China's marathon in cities and rural areas, and runners, whether they are professional or amateurs, have the right to pursue their goals to be faster, better and stronger by taking part in competitions.

Sports are different from fitness. Athletes are always keeping the spirit of forging ahead. So it is ridiculous to blame people to join in competitive sports. All sports carry risks and we should not throw away the apple because of the core.

Further, although ultramarathon is less popular in China than marathon held in cities, it has two big advantages. First, ultramarathon helps participants enjoy cultures and customs in different regions. Normally, runners need to arrive in the competition area one day earlier, so they have time to integrate into the local society during their stay. Sports are one of the most important on-site activities involving economy, tourism and culture.

Second, unlike marathons that require road closures in cities, ultramarathon participants do not disturb residents' normal lives and can be part of local regions' image promoting campaigns, which can help promote local economic and social development. The key is that local authorities and sports organizations should be qualified in holding such races. Some areas, if they lack enough fund or expertise, should refrain from taking a risk.

No doubt the tragedy will deal a serious blow to the newly emerging sports in China. But the rare accident shouldn't put a full stop on these newly emerging games.

Instead, the authorities need to strictly supervise sporting events and those future organizers must draw lessons to prevent such tragedy from happening again.

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