The Comrades Marathon, the world’s oldest and largest Ultramarathon, has been cancelled for 2020, Athletics South Africa announced on Thursday.
The race, which runs for 89km [55 miles] between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, would have seen its 95th edition run this year, and was originally postponed in April due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But in light of South Africa’s growing COVID-19 numbers, which hit 12,000 confirmed cases this week, the decision was made to call off the ultramarathon completely. It would originally have been run on June 14.
ASA President Aleck Skhosana said: “Cancelling what would have been the 95th edition of the Comrades Marathon was a long and arduous decision to make.
“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.
“However, we believe we have jointly arrived at the correct decision to protect the health and safety of all concerned as well as the lives of our fellow South Africans.”
CMA Chairperson Cheryl Winn also explained that: “It is with profound sadness and regret that the CMA Board, in conjunction with ASA and KZNA, had to make this decision.
“We do so with the knowledge that it will come as a great disappointment to thousands of Comrades runners, who together with us at CMA, have been holding out hope that the race would somehow proceed.
“We had hoped to postpone The Ultimate Human Race to a date not later than end of September (owing to climatic conditions), but alas with the Covid-19 pandemic showing no signs of abating and anticipated to peak in the coming months, there is no telling what is yet to come.
“As CMA, it is incumbent upon us to prioritise the health, safety and well-being of our athletes, volunteers and stakeholders and therefore lamentably we will not be staging this year’s edition of the country’s leading road running event.”
Exactly 80 years ago, Comrades Marathon organisers faced a similar dilemma in deciding whether to stage the 20th Comrades Marathon some eight months into the conflagration of World War II.
At the last moment it was decided to go ahead with just 23 starters, following the withdrawal of many runners who had been mobilised for the war effort. Only 10 runners completed the 1940 Comrades Marathon.
The following year the race was cancelled and remained so for the duration of the war (1941 – 1945), as the organisers, runners and supporters stood in solidarity with all those who suffered the horrors and atrocities of war, similar to that of the World War 1 which had inspired the Comrades Marathon’s humble beginnings.