SINGAPORE - A decision on whether the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) will proceed as planned in December "will be guided by the prevailing safe management measures in Singapore", organisers have told The Straits Times.
Asked about the status of the annual event, an Ironman Asia spokesman said: "The health and well-being of our community, runners and supporters is of utmost importance to us as we continue to work closely with relevant government agencies to consider the best way forward for SCSM 2020, given the evolving Covid-19 situation.
"Our decision will be guided by the prevailing safe management measures in Singapore."
The spokesman added that additional information would be shared with runners and partners and made available on the event's digital platforms "in due course", and urged runners to follow the official government platforms and recommendations closely to keep the risk of Covid-19 transmission low.
The SCSM, which is the nation's largest mass participation sports event, typically launches anywhere between March and May, although the 2016 event launched in July. Last year, the event attracted over 50,000 participants, with over 70,000 supporters lining the route at designated spectator zones.
The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the world's marathoning calendar, with the Boston (Sept 14), New York (Nov 1), and Berlin (Sept 27) marathons, which are part of the prestigious World Marathon Majors (WMM) series, called off.
Two other WMM races - London and Chicago - are scheduled to take place on Oct 4 and Oct 11 respectively but it remains to be seen whether they will actually be held given that Britain and the United States are still in the grip of the pandemic.
In Singapore, sporting events that have been cancelled include the Sundown Marathon (May), Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix (September) and the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens (October).
Experts ST spoke to urged caution with regards to the fate of the Singapore Marathon, emphasising that the responsibility of ensuring that such mass sporting events are safe falls largely on the organisers of these events.
Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases expert at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, feels that such events should proceed "for the health of the body and soul for the people", though he stressed that organisers must work out how to enforce safety measures such as wearing of masks and social distancing.
This can be done through clear instructions and cooperative participants, said Dr Leong, adding: "The numbers may have to be toned down or (given) scheduled timings just like voting on polling day."
Associate Professor Josip Car, director of the Centre for Population Health Sciences at Nanyang Technological University's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, suggested that some other mitigating measures could be to stagger flag-off times, provide different routes that offer multiple lanes within, and to change the event to a non-competitive one.
He highlighted the coronavirus-hit Adria Tour, the tennis exhibition series in the Balkans hosted by world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, as an example of "what can happen if the sporting community ignores precautionary guidance related to Covid-19".
"The challenge in mass sporting events like a marathon, even more so than other spectator sports, is in maintaining safe distances between the many participants necessary to make the event a success," said Prof Car. "Telling competitive distance runners to distance themselves in a race seems to me to be counter-intuitive."
Nearly 30,000 runners took part in the 42.195km and 21.1km categories categories last year. The event has boasted an international field for years, with winners coming from Africa since the millennium.
Infectious disease specialist Piotr Chlebicki, who practises at Mount Alvernia Hospital, believes it might be more prudent for organisers to cancel this year's edition.
He added: "It's an international event... if it goes ahead, it would have to be limited to countries that have Covid-19 under control and I'm not sure whether it's possible to organise that."