The 2020 London Marathon will not be a mass-participation event, organisers have announced, and will instead be open only to elite runners. The race route has been redrawn to entail 19.8 laps of St James’ Park before finishing on the Mall, and spectators will not be allowed to attend.
The event director, Hugh Brasher, said in a latter to runners that he had little choice in the current climate of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had hoped that by moving our event to October, by changing the way we organised the event and by using some amazing proximity technology that is about to be launched worldwide, we would be able to safely run or walk the 26.2 miles from Greenwich to Westminster and, in doing so, demonstrate one of the founding principles of the London Marathon – to show a sense of achievement in a sometimes troubled world,” he said.
“However the recent surges in Covid-19 as lockdown was eased and the cancellation of the trial return of spectators at sporting events has stopped us in our tracks. Therefore we cannot embark on that intensely personal journey from Blackheath to Buckingham Palace, with the crowd cheering us on, with the gods of our sport leading the way, running together in mind, body and spirit with tens of thousands of people.”
Elite races for men, women and wheelchair athletes will take place on 4 October in a secure biosphere, with the times counting towards Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification. Athletes confirmed for the race include Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, women’s world record holder Brigid Kosgei and para athletes David Weir and Manuela Schar.
No spectators will be allowed at the 40th London Marathon, but BBC Sport will broadcast coverage of the race.
“Today is a day of sadness, but also I think it’s a day of certainty,” event director Hugh Brasher said, hailing the “inclusivity” of the new-look race. “It’s a day where we’re announcing what is appropriate – we think – for the 40th race. It’s certainly not something we ever expected to do.”
He added: “We hope people will get inspiration from the gods of our sport still battling it out over those 26.2 miles in the only world marathon race that is taking place in the fall. And still having Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, Brigid Kosgei, Manuela Schar, David Weir... they’ll take the inspiration from those athletes, on the journey that will be incredibly personal to them. We will celebrate that journey from a distance, but in spirit, together.”
Those who had planned to take part in the event – originally postponed from April 26 to October due to the coronavirus pandemic – have been offered the option to defer their places to the 2021, 2022 or 2023 events.
The 41st race in 2021 is also set to take place in the autumn, on October 3, to give people more certainty and confidence in the event going ahead.
Additionally, 45,000 people who were supposed to take part in the event in the spring will take part in a “virtual race” across the world, receiving a finisher’s medal and T-shirt for completing the 26.2-mile distance from home anywhere in the world within 24 hours on 4 October .
Brasher said: “We believe it’s the greatest marathon in the world, the greatest athletes in the world are still coming, and we hope that Britain gets behind the 45,000 who will run or walk that 26.2 miles on October 4. And in that journey, one of the pieces to celebrate in a way – is that actually this will make it the most inclusive London marathon, we believe, in history – because people have 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds in which to take part.”
In 2019, the event raised a record-breaking £66.4million for charitable causes, and Brasher said £20m had been raised for good causes this year at the time of cancellation.
Additional reporting by PA