"The hurdles are just too high to overcome." Those are the words of a staff member at one of the Hakone Ekiden regulars.
On July 27 it was announced that the Oct. 11 Izumo Ekiden had been canceled due to the coronavirus crisis. As the first of the Big Three University Ekidens, its cancelation is bound to have an impact not just on the Nov. 1 National University Ekiden and Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, but on the corporate league, junior high and high school national ekiden championships, the National Women's Ekiden and National Men's Ekiden, and the major marathons' chances of being held.
"The JAAF's 'Road Race Staging Guidance' preconditions that it issued in June are extremely strict," commented the same university team leader. "It goes without saying that being able to stage a race depends upon any declaration of a state of emergency having been canceled, but if you look at the conditions listed it's impossible to clear them all. The event must receive the approval of every body that has jurisdiction over any part of the course. The town or region where the event will be held must have medical treatment procedures for coronavirus infection in place. A health condition management system must be in place for everyone involved with the race, athletes, team staff, race and competition officials, spectators, media. Organizers must provide for the possibility of social distancing in all race transportation, changing rooms, the race day office, pre-race area, toilets and the like. They must ask for fans' self-restraint in not coming out to cheer along the course. The more popular the marathon or ekiden, the more athletes, staff, fans and media there will be. Temperature and humidity are low during road racing season, an environment in which people are more apt to get sick. There is almost no way you could hold a race in the midst of all that."
At the moment there is no end to the coronavirus crisis in sight at all. Even with there being an influenza vaccine, in the 2017-18 season there were an estimated 14.5 million flu cases. It's simply unrealistic to think that we can completely eliminate coronavirus infection.
"Even if a coronavirus vaccine were released, if you think of it in terms of influenza you have to come to the conclusion that it would be extremely difficult to put on ekidens and marathons," said the university official. "Universities and corporations that have invested in developing their ekiden programs may have to change their policies. Many corporate league coaches say, 'The ekiden is everything.' That's what the corporation demands. If the purpose of putting resources into ekiden development disappears, it won't be possible to bring in middle and long distance athletes. The opportunities for a career for high school and collegiate athletes will be much slimmer. Even if someone is good over 5000 m or 10000 m on the track, the general public here doesn't care about those distances and there are almost no TV broadcasts of them. A lot of alumni will tell you, 'What the companies care about are the ekiden and the marathon.' It's a tough situation since those types of races use public roads, but if the JAAF doesn't revise its road race guidance policies then we have to be conscious of the possibility that the two most popular types of road racing might disappear completely."
The coronavirus has had a profound impact on the way the world thinks. Who could laugh if it proves an extinction-level event for marathons and ekidens?
translated by Brett Larner