Commercial competition to be regulated in athletics races

He Jie crosses the finish line of Beijing Half Marathon on April 14, 2024. Photo: VCG

He Jie crosses the finish line of Beijing Half Marathon on April 14, 2024. Photo: VCG

Following recent controversies of race rigging surrounding the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon, the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA) announced plans to introduce guidelines aimed at standardizing commercial competition in races.

The decision was made during a meeting on Tuesday, according to a post by the official WeChat account of CAA. 

“Since the spring of 2024, road running events have been held across the country, sparking a surge in participation among the masses. Overall, the road running events that have taken place have operated smoothly, but they have also exposed issues in event organization and management, attracting widespread attention from society,” said the post.

At the Beijing Half Marathon held on Sunday, the champion was accused of benefiting from staged competition involving African runners. Viral footage online shows that He Jie was behind the three African runners down the final stretch. Instead of sprinting to the finish line, the three African contenders were seen to look back and wave He out in front while appearing to slow down. He, the national marathon record holder, eventually overtook them and won the race by one second.

The CAA will roll out guidelines as soon as possible to regulate commercial competition in road races and enhance market standardization.

Additionally, other measures will be taken, including stricter vetting of race proposals, enhanced on-site inspections, and improved regulatory mechanisms. The association will also increase risk assessment for races and develop targeted contingency plans accordingly, it said.

The association also designated 2024, 2025 and 2026 as years focused on enhancing the quality of races, with initiatives on institutional improvements, competition organization standards, enhanced supervision, intensified training, medical security and educational outreach. 

Local authorities are urged to ensure the safety and integrity of races, with a commitment to anti-doping measures and upholding fair play, said the post.

“National fitness has become a national strategy in China, within the strategic context of building a strong sports nation. Running, unlike other sports requiring specialized skills, has a low entry barrier. This accessibility has propelled running to become one of the most widely participated in sports, with countless competitions held across the country every weekend,” said Luo Le, a sports teacher from the Beijing University of Chemical Technology.

Yet, the popularity of marathon also brings forth certain challenges, some of which could be preventable with proper management. To address these problems, it’s crucial for organizers to refine regulations and ensure comprehensive oversight, Luo added. 

In Luo’s view, the guidelines aim to underscore the importance of maintaining standards while promoting inclusivity.