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China indefinitely banned extreme sports. Here’s why

After the worst tragedy in the history of long-distance running, China has suspended extreme sports. Here’s what needs to change for these sports to return safely

Emergency personnel and vehicles wait on standby at the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Baiyin in northwestern China’s Gansu Province.
In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, emergency personnel and vehicles wait on standby at the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Baiyin in northwestern China’s Gansu Province, Sunday, May 23, 2021.
Associated Press

China officially suspended extreme sports events indefinitely. The announcement came Wednesday from China’s General Administration of Sport, reports The Guardian.

The ban follows last month’s ultramarathon tragedy in China’s Gansu province where 21 runners died in extreme weather conditions due to inadequate planning by the event organizers, says CNN.

What extreme sports did China ban?

According to The South China Morning Post, the ban is broad and unclear but likely applies to most races outside of urban areas or off asphalt roads.

  • The General Administration of Sport suspended “high-risk sports events with unclear management responsibilities, imperfect rules and unclear safety protection standards,” says The Guardian.

The suspension includes ultramarathons, trail running, cross-country running, desert races and wingsuit flying, The Guardian added.

What prompted the ban?

The announcement ban directly references the Gansu tragedy, says The South China Morning Post. The mountainous ultramarathon took place May 22 along Baiyin City’s 62-mile Yellow River Stone Forest Trail. Shortly after the start of the race, sudden storms and freezing temperatures struck.

  • Of the 172 participants, 21 died, eight suffered injuries, and dozens sought shelter in caves, says The Guardian.
  • The incident was even called “one of the most tragic events in the history of long-distance running,” according to The New York Times.
  • Some accounts of the event have exposed the organizer’s poor contingency planning and poor communication, calling the incident a “manmade disaster,” says The Guardian.

The ban follows a broader trend of long-distance running gaining popularity in China over the last decade, says The South China Morning Post. According to the Chinese Athletic Association via CNN, China had 481 trail races and 25 ultramarathons in 2019. The industry has grown amidst poor organization and safety measures, insiders say via CNN.

  • Many trail races take place in remote areas that remain less developed and lack extensive resources, says CNN. For example, Gansu is one of the poorest regions in China.

What happens now?

The General Administration of Sport will conduct an extensive review of sports events to improve management systems, regulations and safety standards, reports The Guardian. This will involve new requirements for event organizers to comprehensively assess emergency plans and risks from weather and geological conditions.

  • No timeline has been given for accomplishing the steps necessary for extreme sporting events to return safely, The South China Morning Post reports.