As Japan ramps up its response to the coronavirus outbreak, one of the largest sporting events in the nation will be curtailed, with participation in the Tokyo Marathon limited to elite runners and wheelchair competitors, organizers said Monday.
Thousands of runners will no longer be able to participate in the event next month due to growing fears over a domestic outbreak of COVID-19.
The decision to eliminate general participation in the largest marathon in Asia emerged amid growing debate surrounding Tokyo’s preparations to host the 2020 Olympic Games in July despite the ongoing viral outbreak.
The Tokyo Marathon, which is slated for March 1, follows a roughly 42-km route that starts at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku and finishes at Tokyo Station.
Thirty-eight-thousand runners were set to run in the Tokyo Marathon this year. Participation will be drastically reduced by barring general participants to prevent further spread of the virus. Roughly 200 elite runners will participate in the marathon, which doubles as a qualifying race for the 2020 Games.
Marathon organizers had formed a panel of medical experts in January to devise safety measures as well as ways to prevent further spreading of the novel coronavirus.
On Friday, organizers asked Chinese residents to defer entry to this year’s marathon due to concern of the virus, which is thought to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Runners were told they would automatically qualify for next year’s marathon if they complied.
Deferred entry was offered to more than 1,800 runners of various nationalities based in China, where, as of Monday, the coronavirus has caused nearly 1,800 deaths and infected more than 70,000 individuals.
The outbreak has led to the cancelation or relocation of sporting events around the world. In January, the International Olympic Committee relocated the Tokyo 2020 Olympic boxing qualifying tournament for the Asian and Oceanic region, which was originally scheduled to take place Feb. 3-14, to the Jordanian capital of Amman.
Olympic women’s soccer qualifying slated for Feb. 3-9 was moved from Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the outbreak, to Australia, while Asian Champions League games involving Chinese clubs, including several scheduled to take place in Japan, have been pushed back to April and May.
Formula One’s Shanghai Grand Prix, originally scheduled for Apr. 19, has also been postponed.
Despite growing concerns that the novel coronavirus might impact the 2020 Olympics, organizers insist the game will go on.
After saying he was “seriously worried” the virus could dampen hype for the 2020 Games earlier this month, Yoshiro Muto, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee, backtracked and said cancelation or postponement was out of the question.
The 2020 Olympics, which will commence on July 24 with an opening ceremony, will play host to more than 11,000 athletes from over 200 nations.