By Lauren Bennett and Dan Murphy
Mayor Marty Walsh announced on May 28 that the 124th Boston Marathon, which was postponed to Sept. 14, has been cancelled.
“The Boston Athletic Association (BAA), with our input and support, has determined that the traditional one day running of the 124th Boston Marathon is not feasible this year for public health reasons,” Walsh said at a press conference on May 28. “There’s no way to hold the usual race format without bringing large numbers of people into close proximity.”
Walsh said that while the “goal and hope” was to contain the virus and help recover the economy, “this kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on September 14 or any time this year.”
Boston Athletic Association CEO Tom Grilk announced that instead of the live race, the BAA and the City are now planning “an historic virtual Boston marathon” featuring a week’s worth of events and activities for runners and supporters to take part in.
The BAA will also be refunding entry fees for all registered participants, he said, and has “plans to provide finishers of the virtual race with various items that they would expect, such as their participant shirts and the unicorn medal that so many of them strive so hard to earn.”
Walsh said his decision to cancel the race came when he realized the number of positive cases was climbing during the surge, and that the potential for a second surge in the fall became very real. He said experts have said that the second surge could happen between August and October, and with the new marathon date scheduled for mid-September, he realized bringing tens of thousands of people together in close quarters would not be responsible.
“Economically, it’s a big hit,” he said. “I mean, there’s no question about it. This entire three months has been a big hit for most sectors economically. Certainly, we’re feeling it in our budget, our restaurants are feeling it, our small businesses are feeling it, many of our offices are feeling it.”
Walsh said that the City could take around a $200 million hit by cancelling the race.
“We’ll survive,” he said. “It might be a different reality for a lot of people. I know that as we move forward here.”
Martyn Roetter, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay board of directors, said the decision to cancel the Marathon would undoubtedly hurt Back Bay businesses, including many that have remained closed for nearly three months due to the pandemic and some that fell prey to looting and vandalism following Sunday night¡¯s protests over the death of George Floyd.
“It¡¯s another blow that makes recovery more difficult,” Roetter said. ¡°The hope in the fall was to get some boost for hotels and restaurants with all the people who come to the Marathon. It delays the ability to recover and may of course increase the number of businesses that can¡¯t survive.”
The cancellation will also likely have an adverse impact on Back Bay retail businesses that have long benefitted from out-of-towners with expendable income who come to Boston for the footrace and shop.
“Many come here from overseas and throughout U.S. and buy things to take home with them, but they won¡¯t be doing that this year,” he said.
But while Roetter said cancelling the Marathon doesn’t bode well for the local economy, he is confident that Mayor Martin Walsh and the BAA carefully weighed that factor against the public-health risks in making their decision.
“You can¡¯t have a healthy economy when people are afraid of getting sick,” Roetter said.
Meanwhile, Mayor Walsh encouraged the city to rise to the occasion during these trying times.
“This is a challenge,” Walsh said. “But meeting tough challenges is what the Boston Marathon is all about. It’s a symbol of our city’s and our Commonwealth’s resilience. So it’s incumbent upon all of us to dig deep, like a marathon runner, like we did in 2013, and keep that spirit alive. And I know that’s what we’ll all do.”