As the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and major sports competitions around the globe were either postponed or canceled, discussions on whether the 2020 Saipan Marathon should go ahead or not continue.
Nhorleen Lilles, who registered for tomorrow’s event, is seriously considering pulling out from the competition, saying that although she is excited to debut in Saipan Marathon, she think it’s not worth the risk.
Tomorrow’s Saipan Marathon has over 700 registered participants with more than 200 of them coming from Japan and South Korea, which have confirmed COVID-19 cases. The CNMI remains free from the virus and Gov. Ralph DLG Torres attributed this to the strict safety measures that the islands are implementing. These procedures convinced Torres and the Marianas Visitors Authority to go ahead with Saipan Marathon despite the request from the House of Representatives to postpone it.
Derek Chambers, who competed in the Saipan Marathon in the past, also thinks at this time it is OK to move forward with the race.
“I think that given our current situation on Saipan (no documented cases yet) that it is OK to proceed with the marathon. I think that the risk of transmission during this particular event is pretty low so it should go ahead. Same for Tagaman next week, but circumstances could change by then,” Chambers said.
Brad Ruszala, another regular Saipan Marathon participant, said “I would have been fine with a postponement of our race, but at least we’ll get the chance to run it.”
“I’ve been looking forward to our race and the Guam race for months. Guam’s was postponed until September and our race this weekend might be the last time we’re able to participate in an event like this for a while,” he added.
Rommel Buenaflor, also a regular in the Saipan Marathon, said he has decided not to race this year because “I am not comfortable with it. There’s always a next time.”
Besides the runners, this weekend’s Saipan Marathon will also be attended by volunteers, including health care professionals.
A Commonwealth Health Care Corp. staff, who requested to have his name withheld, believed that since the Saipan Marathon has participants coming from countries with known positive cases, the event should rightfully be cancelled or at least postponed. He also lauded Japanese and South Koreans who have canceled their participation for “exercising better judgment”.
Laarni Santos, a Chinatown resident, acknowledged that the Saipan Marathon consistently brings tourists to the CNMI and contributes a lot to the economy. However, at this time, she said the priority should be the health and safety of the community, especially for a small island with limited resources like Saipan.
“Bigger countries have the resources (especially medical) to deal with this pandemic. How about us?,” she said.
A consultant for big-crowd events, on the other hand, said Saipan Marathon is a good tool to promote the islands as a safe destination.
“Cancellation may create unwanted negative perception or stir panic. Use the marathon to assuage the public that this is a safe destination for everyone,” he said.