Covid-19 | Comrades Marathon cancelled for the first time since World War II

14 May 2020 - 13:01 By Tiisetso Malepa
2019 Comrades Marathon winner Edward Mothibi wil have to wait for 2021 to defend his crown.
2019 Comrades Marathon winner Edward Mothibi wil have to wait for 2021 to defend his crown.
Image: Jackie Clausen

The Comrades Marathon was cancelled for the first time since World War II due to the coronavirus pandemic‚ organisers announced on Thursday.

Athletics South Africa (ASA) president Aleck Skhosana said the decision to cancel was a correct one as it was taken to protect the health and safety of all concerned.

“Cancelling what would have been the 95th edition of the Comrades Marathon was a long and arduous decision to make‚” said Skhosana.

“With the race’s rich history‚ its powerful nation-building attributes and contribution towards social cohesion‚ as well as its immense economic impact‚ it would have been premature to rush into an outright cancellation sooner.”

The race was first postponed in Apri due to Covid-19.

Organisers said the ultra-marathon faced a similar dilemma exactly 80 years ago but a last minute decision was taken to stage the 20th edition despite eight months into the conflagration of World War II.

Despite the withdrawal of many runners who had been mobilised for the war effort in 1940‚ the race went ahead with just 23 starters with only 10 crossing the finishing line.

The following year the race was cancelled and remained so for the duration of the war between 1941 and 1945.

The cancellation also means the 2021 95th edition, starting from the Pietermaritzburg City Hall at 5h30 and finishing 12 hours later at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, will now be the 47th down run and will coincide with celebrations of the centenary of the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA)‚ which was founded on May 24 1921.

CMA chairperson Cheryl Winn said she had hoped that the race would be postponed to September but with the Covid-19 crisis expected to peak in South Africa in the coming months‚ her organisation was left with no option.

“As CMA‚ it is incumbent upon us to prioritise the health‚ safety and well-being of our athletes‚” she said.

Winn reassured runners on a number of practical issues‚ advising that CMA will deal with the roughly 2500 foreign and 25‚000 South African entries received for the 2020 Comrades Marathon as follows:

∙ With regard to South African entrants (based on the assumption that all entrants would have eventually qualified to participate in the race) every South African entrant (including the 485 who entered during the recent substitution period) will not be refunded their entry fee but will instead receive their #Comrades2020 mrpsport runners T-shirt and goodie bag‚ as well as a Comrades badge and flash. The details of the distribution process will be made available in due course in terms of the National Lockdown restrictions. For logistical reasons this will apply to South African entries only.

•With regard to foreign entrants‚ in lieu of the cancellation‚ all Foreign Entries will be deferred to #Comrades2021 and/or #Comrades2022‚ depending upon the athletes’ wishes. In addition‚ foreign athletes will also have the option of availing their 2020 entry for substitution in 2021 only.

• With regard to Back-to-Back Medals‚ those runners who completed their first Comrades Marathon on the 2019 Up Run to Pietermaritzburg will qualify for the Back-to-Back Medal upon completion of the 2021 Comrades Marathon Down Run.

“We thank each of our runners‚ supporters‚ volunteers and our incredible sponsors for their patience‚ fortitude and steadfast support over the past two months during which we have wrangled with this difficult decision.

“Sad as it is‚ as CMA we can now turn our focus towards the staging of our Centenary Celebrations next year in the comfort of knowing we can rely on the passionate loyalty and participation of so many.”