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Test sporting event with 2,000 runners held in Switzerland

Runners could take their masks off after 300 metres Keystone / Valentin Flauraud

The Swiss Canyon Trail, one of the first European sporting events of its size to take place since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, started on Saturday in Couvet, western Switzerland.

This content was published on June 5, 2021 - 16:46
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Organisers were given permission to hold three races of 650 runners in one 48-hour event on condition that there was no contact between competitors in the different categories.

“We’re very happy to have been able to resume and to have been chosen as a test event by canton Neuchâtel,” said Patrick Christinat, president and founder of the eventExternal link. “However, we’ve only had three weeks since the green light from the government to put together our health concept.”

Some 500 volunteers and 2,000 runners were tested on Thursday and Friday. The runners were divided into three groups, which must not mix.

The organisers, who had been planning the event for several months, had to provide disinfectant gel and rearrange the changing rooms and showers to allow for sanitary distances. At the start of the races all the runners are masked; after 300 metres they can remove the mask, either by keeping it on them or by throwing it in a bin. They must put a mask back on after they cross the finish line.

Refreshment stations have also been redesigned so that runners do not touch the food; participants are served by volunteers. Refreshments are necessary, given the duration of the event: the lowest-ranked runners in the 111-kilometre (69-mile) ultra-trail are expected to finish at 4pm on Sunday, having set out at 5am on Saturday.

The other race on Saturday is 51 kilometres long and is part of the Swiss trail running championship and the Swiss qualification for the world trail running championships in Thailand. The popular 31km race will take place on Sunday morning.

Cost deficit

While the 25th edition was able to accommodate around 2,000 runners, Christinat said some 2,500 had registered a month ago. “We had to drop the 81-kilometre race and lost about 500 runners. We had the potential to have 2,800 participants this year. So we lost nearly 1,000 people, especially foreigners,” he said.

Just under two-thirds of runners come from Switzerland. For those coming from abroad, a third come from France but some from further afield, including an American, some Scandinavians and even one runner from Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean.

With the necessary sanitary measures, the deficit is expected to come to between CHF100,000 ($111,000) and CHF140,000.

“Just to have our volunteers tested cost us CHF12,500. And there’s also the loss of income because we couldn’t welcome as many runners as expected because of the health standards and because we had to reimburse 500 people who had already registered,” Christinat said.

He hopes the government will provide financial support for the test events it has authorised. “If not, we will sound the alarm at the cantonal and federal level,” he said.

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