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Fingers crossed as coronavirus eats into sports revenues

Tuesday February 18 2020

A runner waves while holding an Olympic torch during a rehearsal of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics torch relay in Tokyo on February 15, 2020. PHOTO | CHARLY TRIBALLEAU | AFP

A runner waves while holding an Olympic torch during a rehearsal of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics torch relay in Tokyo on February 15, 2020. PHOTO | CHARLY TRIBALLEAU | AFP 

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Eventual ramifications of the spreading coronavirus on global sport are too ghastly to contemplate.
On Monday, the Tokyo Marathon Foundation announced it had barred members of the public from the March 1 Tokyo Marathon due to fears over likely infections of the virus, now renamed Codiv-19.

This means about 38,000 runners registered for this World Marathon Majors Series race will be locked out, leaving just 200 elite runners, some of whom will be fighting for places to the Tokyo Olympic Games, on the starting line.

Meanwhile, Japanese telecommunications giant NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone) also asked 200,000 of its employees to work from home, starting Monday, in an effort to protect them from the virus.

With the Tokyo Marathon annually raising tidy sums for various causes, organisers are expected to lose in excess of Sh300 million that would have gone to charity.

The entry fee for the full marathon is at 18,200 Japanese Yen (about Sh17,000) with a further 6,700 Japanese Yen (about Sh6,100) for the 10-kilometre race, meaning the Tokyo Marathon raises over Sh600 million annually from registration fees alone.

Add corporate sponsorships and partnerships and the figure easily cruises over the Sh1 billion mark.


From my estimates, the Tokyo Marathon Foundation will, easily, lose in excess of Sh1.5 billion to the coronavirus.

While Kenyan elite runners will be at the starting line in Tokyo on March 1, they won’t be that lucky across in China, Codiv-19’s epicentre where races have been cancelled altogether.

With over 1,500 deaths reported along with 75,000 global infections, almost all marathons in China have been called off pending the arrest of the spreading virus.

Across the country, interesting stories are being told of stop-gap measures that running enthusiasts are embracing in the wake of the deadly virus in China.

Like that of Cheng Dado who, “quarantined” in his home, covered almost 100 kilometres running in his living room in Xi’an.

Or Tan Xue, who covered a half marathon distance, also in her home, and Pan Shancu who ran 6,450 circles around two beds indoors, finishing the run in five hours!

Across China, key sporting events have been rescheduled or transferred to other venues outside the region as the virus continues to bite.

These include the World Indoor Athletics Championships, earlier programmed for Shanghai from March 13 to 15, and now pushed to next year.

Last weekend’s Asian Athletics Association’s Indoor Championships were cancelled, while Fed Cup tennis action for the Asia/ Oceania Group ‘I’ was moved to Kazakhstan from Dongguan, China.

Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix has also been pushed to April 19, while basketball’s Olympic qualifiers have been moved from Foshan city to Belgrade in Serbia.

The list goes on and on…

With over 1,000 marathons organised in the country annually, having skyrocketed from just 22 in 2011, according to statistics from the Chinese Athletics Association, China has fast become a popular hunting ground for Kenyan and Ethiopians.

Some of these races offer up to $45,000 (Sh4.5 million) for winners, attracting about 20 agents now dealing exclusively with Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.

The popular Xiamen Marathon, for instance, attracted 18,000 runners in 2018, raking in $18 million (Sh1.8 billion) in race day revenues.

China’s sports industry value, initially projected to rise from $230 billion (Sh23.2 trillion) in 2016 to $770 billion (Sh77.6 trillion) in 2025, will most certainly take a beating from the deadly coronavirus.

Hundreds of Kenyan elite athletes, who annually find easy passage to China for marathons and road races, will also, most certainly, suffer huge pay cuts too.

And with the Tokyo Olympic Games just five months away, Japanese authorities, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, are working round the clock to ensure the virus is contained well before the opening ceremony.

The only time the Olympics were cancelled was in 1940, owing to the Second World War.

In 2016, the Rio Olympics suffered a major scare from the Zika Virus outbreak, but soldiered on.

We all hope that the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympic Games will also go ahead as scheduled on July 24, and that the Covid-19 threat is eliminated for the good of humanity, and for the good of sport!

Makori is the Editor (Sports) at the Nation Media Group. [email protected]