Coronavirus pandemic

Marathon going virtual?

SportSG chief hints Covid-19 could see actual Singapore race turn into online affair

Elite runners getting off the start line at last year's Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. It is looking increasingly unlikely that the country's largest mass participation sports event will take place in its traditional format while the Covid-19
Elite runners getting off the start line at last year's Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. It is looking increasingly unlikely that the country's largest mass participation sports event will take place in its traditional format while the Covid-19 pandemic rages on.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Elite runners getting off the start line at last year's Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. It is looking increasingly unlikely that the country's largest mass participation sports event will take place in its traditional format while the Covid-19
LIM TECK YIN, Sport Singapore chief executive officer.

The chances of the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) taking place this year in its traditional format look increasingly unlikely, as mass participation sports events continue to be cancelled or turned into virtual affairs while the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the world's marathon calendar, with the Boston, New York City, Berlin, and most recently Chicago events - all part of the prestigious World Marathon Majors series - called off.

On Tuesday, organisers of the OCBC Cycle - Singapore's premier cycling event which typically attracts close to 7,000 participants - announced the cancellation of this year's edition, and introduced a free virtual ride in its place.

And yesterday, Sport Singapore chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin indicated that the SCSM could also follow suit.

Speaking during a Zoom dialogue session organised by the Embassy of Spain and Spanish-Singaporean Chamber of Commerce, which discussed the transformation of the sports industry because of Covid-19, Lim said that "innovating… (and) reinventing events as we understand them" was key.

He added: "As an example, we have been discussing with Ironman, which runs the SCSM, as to what we will do this year when it is quite inconceivable that we want to bring 50,000 people together at one location at one evening or morning to run a race.

"And it is now about an engagement over a few months…. virtual engagements and workshops on running, health, well-being, (and) accompanying that with offers of merchandise and then having a virtual competition.

"Whether part of the competition is indoors and running on treadmills, or whether part of that competition is during competition week where people track their distances where they go outdoor and run with pacers or on their own… the idea is that a single-day marathon is now split into several months, with different phases of engagements and with different types of activity."

Lim also said that the organisers of international events are "at the mercy of international travel policy" but added that he hopes Singapore will start to welcome such events back "by next year".

The SCSM, which is the nation's largest mass participation sports event, is typically launched between March and May. Last year, the event attracted over 50,000 participants, with more than 70,000 supporters lining the route at designated spectator zones.

Earlier this month, a spokesman for Ironman Asia told The Straits Times that the health and well-being of its "community, runners and supporters is of utmost importance" and added that it is working closely with government agencies to consider the best way forward for this year's SCSM.

"Our decision will be guided by the prevailing safe management measures in Singapore," said the spokesman.

LOOKING FOR ALTERNATIVES

We have been discussing... what we will do this year when it is quite inconceivable that we want to bring 50,000 people together at one location at one evening or morning to run a race.

LIM TECK YIN, Sport Singapore chief executive officer.

 
 
 

He also said that additional information would be shared with runners and partners and made available on the event's digital platforms "in due course".

In Singapore, major sporting events that have been cancelled include golf's HSBC Women's World Championship (February), the Sundown Marathon (May), football's International Champions Cup (July), Formula One's Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix (September), and the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens (October).

Yesterday's dialogue session was also attended by Joaquin Aristegui, chief of Spain's High Council for Sports, as well as Singaporean Olympic champion swimmer Joseph Schooling, and Spanish basketball player and Olympian Alba Torrens.

Schooling, who won the 100m butterfly gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games, admitted that he "didn't think he was ready going into Tokyo 2020", which was originally slated to take place from Friday to Aug 9 but has been moved to July 23-Aug 8 next year because of the pandemic.

He said the extra year has given him a "big boost" as he prepares for the defence of his title, and added that mentally, he had learnt how to channel "negative into positive".

"I've gone through some scenarios over the last few months where I thought, 'Can I do this again? Can I ever be the same?' " said the 25-year-old.

"And every time you make a conscious decision to say, 'Yes, I will be better', you are already surpassing a lot of people who say, 'I can't do this or do that' or 'This is too hard'... At the end of the day, it's those people who have perseverance and will to succeed that will come out on top. And I believe in 2021, it's going to show. It's going to be interesting."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2020, with the headline 'Marathon going virtual?'. Subscribe