ChinaIn addition to having to compensate the victims, the organizers of the ultra-trail race in Gansu can also face criminal penalties for allowing the disaster to happen.

The 100km athletes of the Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon started on the morning of May 22 without knowing that disaster would fall on them from the early afternoon of the same day.  Photo: Baiyin Daily

The 100km runners of the Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon started on the morning of May 22 without knowing that disaster would fall on them from early afternoon of the same day. Image: Baiyin Daily

Seven of the eight injured athletes were discharged on the afternoon of May 25 – three days after the ultra-trail disaster in Gansu. The other athlete with more serious injuries is stable and is continuing to receive treatment.

According to the Global TimesHalf of the 21 families of the deceased athletes have reached an agreement with the compensation team from the organizers. The rest are continuing to work. Mr. Zhang Xuchen – mayor of Baiyin city and representative of the organizing committee – said that the compensation budget comes from the organizers, contractors and local authorities. These families also received an additional 10 million yuan (about 1.55 million USD) in insurance for their loved ones who died.

On May 24, the Gansu provincial government established a joint investigation team, including the Disciplinary Inspection Commission, the Procuracy, the police, the meteorological, sports and other departments. Representatives of the General Department of Sports and the National Meteorological Department were also invited to participate. This group will gather in Bach Ngan city and Canh Thai district for convenience.

According to officials, the main task of the group is to determine the direct and indirect causes of the tragedy. They are expected to determine the nature of the incident, the responsibilities of the organizers, contractors, operators, departments, units, and personnel involved. In addition to drawing lessons from experience, according to the Global Times, based on the investigation’s conclusion, event organizers may be subject to civil or even criminal penalties.

Rescue work after the ultra trail disaster in Gansu

Rescue teams deployed to rescue athletes in distress at Hoang Ha Stone Forest Park

According to the sheet Nikkei Asia, after the tragedy in Gansu, the races in China are being closely monitored for safety standards. At least 13 trail running events and marathons have been postponed, and four events, including the Salomon race set to start this weekend in Chongqing, have been cancelled.

At noon on May 22, 21 athletes were killed by hail and high winds when conquering a distance of 100km through the Hoang Ha Stone Forest National Geopark. This is the fourth year this run has taken place, but the organizers have been criticized for their lack of experience and not preparing scenarios for athletes when facing inclement weather.

Event participants and lifeguards said that the event was poorly organized, not forcing athletes to prepare windproof jackets, necessary equipment. Most of the 21 athletes who died in the tragedy died of hypothermia.

Trail running is a relatively new sport in China. The movement started in 2014, but grew massively, by 2019, before the pandemic broke out, there were thousands of events taking place every year. It is estimated that about 100,000 athletes regularly participate in trail running tournaments.

A group of athletes huddled on the mountainside to fend off strong winds and cold rain while waiting for rescue.  Photo: news.qq.com

A group of athletes huddled on the mountainside to fend off strong winds and cold rain while waiting for rescue. Image: news.qq.com

Unlike road running, trail running involves uneven road terrain and usually takes place in undeveloped rural areas. The race in Gansu takes place on a route through canyons and arid plateaus, including a stretch of more than 2,000m above sea level.

Cheng Yuan, an experienced trail running event organizer, says that in 2016, there were only about 20 to 30 companies participating in the field, but that number is now in the hundreds. Event organizers often choose famous tourist destinations, in the hope of finding many sponsors. However, Tong Dapeng, vice president of a sports event organization Huway.com – the company that organizes the earliest trail running in China – says that the industry relies heavily on subsidized funding from local governments, resort operators and brand sponsors.

According to Tong Dapeng, events with 1,000 to 2,000 runners are more likely to attract brand sponsors, helping to cover the cost of the event. Compared to road races – which have clear rules and regulations, there is no governing body that regulates or reviews trail races. There is no uniform standard between the organizers, and in fact, each organizer has different rules and standards, based on the difficulty of the race.

The rugged terrain, unpredictable weather in Gansu while the organizers are inexperienced and thin, and the lack of strict working procedures are the reasons that were initially mentioned after the ultra trail disaster on May 22.  Photo: Yupyup41

The rugged terrain, unpredictable weather in Gansu while the organizers are inexperienced and thin, and the lack of strict working procedures are the reasons that were initially mentioned after the ultra trail disaster on May 22. Image: Yupyup41

Tong Dapeng insists organizers have discussed common standards, but geographical differences in trail running make the task difficult to accomplish. In April, the China Athletics Federation issued a regulation on how to design and mark the trail.

Chen Jiajun, who competed in the Gaoligong Ultra race in Southwest China, thinks that the safety standard for the trail event needs to be higher than that of a regular road race. Organizers should screen athletes by running ability, design rules and set mandatory requirements.

Nikkei Asia said the organizer of the recent Gansu trail race was a small company, with a temporary staff of executives. Gansu Shengjing Sports and Culture Development Co., Ltd., was established in 2016 with registered capital of 5 million yuan. This unit won the bid to conduct the first race in Gansu in 2018. This year is the fourth time they hold the event. None of the race executives are full-time employees of the company.

Xuan Thang synthetic


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