Cambodia’s biggest and most prestigious international racing event will not be held on-site in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) and Ministry of Tourism announced this week.
This is the first time that such thing happened in the history of the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon. Japanese Olympian Yuko Arimori organised the first edition of the race in 1996. It was subsequently held every year since then.
The change is meant to protect the health and safety of the participants, according to the joint announcement.
“The National Olympic Committee of Cambodia and Ministry of Tourism would like to inform all participants, runners and sponsors of the 25th Angkor Wat International Half Marathon in Siem Reap that due to the increase of COVID-19 cases in the region and around the world, and to protect the health and safety of our runners and other participants, we would like to change the marathon event, which was scheduled for January 24, to a virtual run,” the announcement read.
“We apologise for any inconvenience caused and we hope all runners can join altogether for this virtual run,” it added.
The announcement came with instructions for the participants.
Between Jan 23 and 24, runners who are in Phnom Penh can pick up their race pack ( running t-shirt, race bib, etc) and download ManulifeMOVE app to their phones at the NOCC headquarters in the city.
From Jan 30 to 31, runners who are in Siem Reap province can pick up their race pack and download the ManulifeMOVE app to their phones at the Manulife Cambodia branch in the province.
The NOCC will host a live opening ceremony for the virtual run through official social media pages on Feb 5.
The virtual race will be staged from Feb 6 to 7. Runners can choose between the two dates, but will have to run and complete their registered race category within 24 hours.
The runners in the 5k, 10k and 21k categories can pick up their finisher medals at the NOCC office and Manulife Cambodia Siem Reap branch from Feb 20 to 21, according to the announcement.
The decision to change the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon to a virtual race has drawn criticisms from some quarters.
A petition asking the NOCC to reconsider is being circulated across various social media channels. The petitioners include some of the most prominent runners in the Kingdom.
“We are writing on behalf of participants who have signed up and paid for the 2020 Angkor Wat International Half Marathon (and associated races, 3k, 10k, etc). The writers and organisers of this petition met through social media following the announcement of the cancellation of the race,” the first part of the petition said.
“Our purpose is to run with friends, family, and other runners, both Cambodians and foreigners, while enjoying the historical site of Angkor Wat. Therefore, we are very sad to hear from a press conference on the transformation of the 25th Angkor Wat International Half Marathon into a virtual race,” it added.
During a subsequent media briefing, NOCC Secretary-General Vath Chamroeun said that in light of the current health situation, they have no choice but to change it to a virtual race. The briefing was held at the NOCC building on Friday.
“We are asking for your understanding. We want to ensure the safety of all participants,” he said, pointing out that a large gathering of runners and other participants might lead to the spread of the deadly virus.
There are 439 COVID-19 cases and no fatalities so far in the Kingdom.
The event is a joint undertaking of the Ministry of Tourism, NOCC, Cambodia Events Organizer and Association of Athletics Federation of Cambodia. Manulife Cambodia is the lead sponsor of the race.
The 25th Angkor International Half Marathon was originally scheduled for Dec 6 last year.
After Cambodia experienced its first COVID-19 community outbreak in December 2020, the Angkor Wat Marathon Committee decided to move the schedule to Jan 24.
There are usually six categories (21k wheelchair, 21k half marathon, 10k, 10k artificial arm/leg, 5k and 3k fun run) for the event. It is unclear if they will remain the same for the virtual race.
The money raised from the event is donated to landmine victims, non-governmental organisations, children’s hospitals and other charitable causes.
Thousands of professional runners and racing enthusiasts from nearly 100 countries across six continents descend on Siem Reap every year to participate in the race. Many of the foreign participants are drawn by the prospect of running around and within the Angkor Wat temple complex, the world’s largest religious monument and Cambodia’s most popular tourist destination.