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Boston Marathon canceled due to coronavirus fears; Race not feasible ‘for public health reasons,’ Mayor Marty Walsh says

Boston Marathon Finish Line (Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker/Flickr)

The Boston Marathon was canceled this year for the first time in the event’s 123-year history due to concerns about the coronavirus, officials announced Thursday.

“The Boston Athletic Association, with our input and support, has determined that the traditional one-day running of the 124th Boston Marathon is not feasible this year for public health reasons,” Mayor Marty Walsh said at a press conference Thursday. “There’s no way to hold this usual race format without bringing large numbers of people into close proximity.”

Officials previously moved the date of the race from April to Sept. 14 with the aim of staving off transmission of the viral respiratory infection. The event’s rescheduling marked the first time the event has been postponed since the marathon began more than 100 years ago.

When officials made the decision to postpone the race in mid-March, there were 20 cases of COVID-19 in Boston and roughly 100 statewide, Walsh noted.

As of Wednesday, though, 6,547 have died from the coronavirus in Massachusetts, and 94,220 people have contracted the disease statewide.

The mayor noted that the choice to reschedule the marathon earlier this year was “forward-thinking” and the right call.

“It helped us set the tone for major decisions nationwide, so we should all be proud of that,” Walsh said. “It became clear as this crisis developed that September 14 was less and less plausible.”

Thursday’s announcement now marks the first time the event has ever been called off. Although the race has never been officially canceled before, a military relay race was held in 1918 because of World War I.

“While our goal and our hope was to make progress and contain the virus and recover our economy, this kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on Sept. 14 or any time this year,” Walsh said.

The marathon, organized by the BAA, has been held every year since 1897 and typically draws in tens of thousands of people.

The course starts in Hopkinton and ends in Boston, cutting through six other Eastern Massachusetts communities, including Ashland, Brookline, Framingham, Natick, Newton and Wellesley.

The race provides a boon for the local and regional economies as well. Walsh told the public in March that rescheduling the event versus canceling it would save around $211 million, and roughly $40 million would have gone to charities.

Organizers had planned on making the race a day to aid local businesses that have suffered major financial losses due to the pandemic, which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people in the United States and infected millions worldwide.

The city of Boston will be helping the BAA provide alternative approaches to the marathon to allow runners to participate in the event remotely, celebrate the “meaningful” race and support charities, Walsh said.

“I just want to acknowledge this is a difficult adjustment,” the mayor said, “and I’m grateful for the work of everyone involved, including the cities and towns along the route, the governor, the legislature and John Hancock, the sponsor.”

The issues surrounding the coronavirus public health crisis continue to be “urgent,” “challenging” and “ever-changing,” said BAA CEO Thomas Grilk, who spoke at Thursday’s press briefing.

“As such, we understand the decision to cancel the in-person, mass-participation marathon for Sept. 14, the marathon as we have known it,” he said.

The BAA will now be hosting a “historic” virtual Boston Marathon that will feature an entire week of events and activities for athletes and supporters, according to Grilk.

All people who registered for the 2020 marathon will be refunded their entry fees, and the BAA will give those who finish the virtual race “various items that they would expect,” Grilk said, including participant shirts, medals and runner’s bibs.

“While we can’t bring tens of thousands of people from around the world to Massachusetts for the marathon this year, we do hope to bring the spirit of the Boston Marathon to the world,” Grilk said, “and we’ll do our best to do that.”

More information regarding plans for the virtual race can be found at the BAA’s website.


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