2020 Tokyo Marathon Restricted to Elite Competitors as Coronavirus Spreads

Tokyo Marathon
J. Henning Buchholz / Shutterstock

The 2020 Tokyo Marathon, one of the largest running events in the world, will only be open to elite competitors. The organizers announced Feb. 17 that due to the spread of coronavirus, over 37,000 scheduled runners will be shut out of the March 1 event.

“We have been preparing for the Tokyo Marathon 2020,” the organizers said on their website. “While implementing preventive safety measures, however, now that case of COVID-19 has been confirmed within Tokyo, we cannot continue to launch the event within the scale we originally anticipated and we regret to inform you the following: The Tokyo Marathon 2020 will be held only for the marathon elites and the wheelchair elites.”

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Coronavirus, designated by the WHO as COVID-19, broke out in China at the end of 2019. The disease has spread through China and into Hong Kong—and, as of Feb. 17, it’s spread to 27 other countries, including the United States and Japan—resulting in over 1,775 reported deaths, including one in Japan.

Fears of visitors and athletes contracting the virus led the organizers to limit the event’s attendance and instead encourage would-be competitors to sign up for the 2021 marathon. Refunds will not be provided, though the shut-out registered runners can defer their registration until next year.

The Tokyo Marathon isn’t the first sporting event in East Asia to be postponed or moved due to the virus. Asian Champions League matches and other Chinese football games have been postponed or moved to other countries, and an Olympic-qualifying tournament among Chinese, Australian, Taiwanese, and Thai teams has been moved from Wuhan, China, to Australia. The World Athletics Indoor Championships have been delayed until 2021, and the Chinese Grand Prix has been postponed as well.

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All of this coronavirus panic stokes fears for the fate of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, which Japan is slated to host July 24. The date will be hard to meet for many Chinese athletes, due to so many Olympic-qualifying tournaments in China being canceled or postponed. The postponement of the Olympics would be something unprecedented in the history of the Games. While the 2016 Rio Olympics caused concern because it drew millions of visitors into the heart of the Zika outbreak, the ceremonies have never been canceled due to health concerns.

As of Feb. 17, there are no plans to postpone the Olympics in Tokyo, but the outbreak of coronavirus is just beginning in countries outside of China.

The Tokyo Marathon’s four events—marathon, wheelchair marathon, 10K and wheelchair 10K—begin the morning of March 1.

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