China punishes 27 officials after race deaths

Rescuers at the site of the 100km marathon, during which extreme cold weather killed 21 runners, in China's Gansu province on May 22.
Rescuers at the site of the 100km marathon, during which extreme cold weather killed 21 runners, in China's Gansu province on May 22.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China has punished 27 government officials deemed responsible for last month's ultramarathon deaths, one of the world's deadliest sporting tragedies in recent history, said the state-run People's Daily.

Twenty-one runners, from a participant pool of 172, died of hypothermia when extremely cold weather suddenly descended on a government-organised 100km marathon on May 22 in the rugged north-western province of Gansu.

Ms Zhang Wenling, head of Jingtai county where the race was held, was dismissed from her post, the People's Daily reported, citing a news briefing by investigators.

Other organisers held accountable included the mayor, Mr Zhang Xuchen, and the Communist Party chief of the city of Baiyin, to which the jurisdiction of Jingtai belongs.

Other punishments imposed on officials included major demerit ratings and disciplinary warnings.

Mr Li Zuobi, the Jingtai county party chief, fell from his apartment building on Wednesday and died, state media reported.

The police have ruled out homicide while Mr Li's death was still being investigated.

It was not clear whether Mr Li's death was linked to the ultramarathon.

The investigators said the tragedy was a public safety incident brought about by extreme weather, including high winds, heavy rain and plunging temperatures, as well as unprofessional organisation and operation.

The race, which kicked off at 9am near the scenic Yellow River Stone Forest area in Jingtai, was hit by the adverse weather conditions around noon.

A landslide following the severe weather also hampered the rescue work, said officials from Baiyin, about 1,000km west of the Chinese capital Beijing.

The deaths of the runners sparked public outrage last month at the organisers' lack of contingency planning.

China's sport administration said last week that it was suspending all high-risk sports events that lack a supervisory body, established rules and clear safety standards.

The activities halted include mountain and desert trail sports, wingsuit flying and ultra-long distance running.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2021, with the headline 'China punishes 27 officials after race deaths'. Subscribe