London Marathon to take place as elites-only race in October

Reimagined format likely to result in 'significant drop' in funds raised for charity, sector chief executive warns

The 2019 London Marathon raised £66.4m for charity. (Photo: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The 2019 London Marathon raised £66.4m for charity. (Photo: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The London Marathon has confirmed that its 40th race, originally due to take place on Sunday 4 October 2020, will not go ahead in the traditional mass-participation format.

In an announcement made on the Virgin Money London Marathon website, organisers said that elite athletes would be able to compete in the marathon on an enclosed course in St James’s Park.

“Elite races for men, women and wheelchair athletes will take place on an enclosed looped course in St James’s Park in a secure biosphere (a contained safe environment like that of Formula 1 and England cricket) and times will be eligible for Olympic qualification,” the statement read.

Runners who had booked a place in the 2020 event will be able to take part in the race by running the 26.2 mile marathon distance from home, or another location, organisers said.

All runners and charities will be able to defer their place to a future London Marathon, either in 2021, 2022, or 2023, and the 2021 Marathon will be moved from its traditional April date to Sunday 3 October, to give the best chance for the mass race to return.

The announcement that the marathon would be postponed until October was one of the first major blows of the coronavirus pandemic for the voluntary and not-for-profit sector, with significant implications for charity groups and individual fundraisers. In 2019, the mass-participation event raised a record £66.4m for charity.

In a statement, event director of the marathon Hugh Brasher said that event organisers had been working on “a number of different scenarios” to deliver the mass-participation event. The prospect of an elites-only race was first floated in April.

“We have been working for months on a number of different scenarios with the health and safety of our runners, our charities, our sponsors, our volunteers, our medics, our communities and our city always our priority,” Brasher said.

However, he added: “Despite all our efforts [...] it has not been possible to go ahead with a mass socially distanced walk or run.”

If existing runners do not want to take part in the 2020 Marathon, Brasher added, their places will be offered to other runners “who would like to raise vital funds for charity.”

In a Twitter thread, Mencap, the official charity partner of the 2020 marathon, expressed its disappointment that the event would not be taking place.

“As the official charity partner of the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon, we're obviously disappointed the usual event isn't going ahead,” the learning disability charity wrote.

“We had lots of exciting and creative ideas for race day. We wanted to use the partnership to greatly increase vital awareness of Learning Disability and raise £1.5 million for people with a learning disability.”

“It is such a tough time for fundraising and more than ever we need everyone's support. We are so grateful to our incredible Team Mencap runners, including our brilliant runners with a learning disability.”

The charity added it was still “determined to make the most of [its] charity of the year partnership”, saying: “We will raise as much money as possible to make positive change and tackle stigma around learning disability.”

Mark Brider, chief executive of Children with Cancer UK, said the new format was likely to result in a “significant drop” in the level of funds raised for the charity.

“Bringing in over £3m worth of donations a year, the Virgin Money London Marathon is Children with Cancer UK’s largest single fundraising event, so we are of course extremely disappointed to hear the news that the Marathon will not be taking place in its usual format,” he said.

“While we hope many of our runners will still take part in the virtual run, it is very likely we will see a significant drop in the level of funds raised. This large loss in income will greatly impact the work that we are able to support both this year and beyond.”

The charity sector is facing an income shortfall of more than £12.4bn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 


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