The COVID-19 pandemic has been a logistical nightmare for event organisers as there were a raft of race cancellations and postponements in the wake of lockdowns around the world.
As events begin to start up again - albeit with new restrictions to ensure social distancing - we've spoken to three event directors to find out what we should be looking for when next signing up for an event.
Hi all, so what was the general feeling and response to event postponements and cancellations from your athletes earlier this year?
Ben Macwilliam - Director of Maverick Races: The general response to us postponing and cancelling races was actually very positive on the whole. Everyone was really understanding of the situation, but refund rates understandably got higher the longer it went on for.
Meredith Bochman - Events Manager of Dock2Dock and MK1K swims: For our flagship event – the Dock2Dock – we offered those that had booked before the 31st March a deferral window whereby they could defer their entry to the 2021 event.
We’ve also communicated to all of our swimmers that entries will rollover to 2021 should the Dock2Dock not be able to go ahead. I think most people were happy with this, although no matter your policies, they'll always be challenged by a small percentage.
There will always be a scenario you hadn’t thought of but this is helpful so you can make your policies better and clearer the next year.
Michael Lemmel - Founder of ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Series: In general, all racers have been fantastic. We all see the devastating consequences of Covid-19 and no one has really questioned why races are postponed or cancelled.
As we adapt to the "new normal" (as many people seem to be calling it), what will be the biggest consideration for you when putting on an event going forward?
Meredith: Ah, the ‘new normal’. I think the way we run events has changed now and I don’t see things necessarily going back to the ‘old normal’ as people's behaviours and attitudes have changed. The biggest consideration when running an event is always safety and for me, this won’t change.
Ben: I guess for us the biggest consideration will be making the event Covid-secure, but balancing that with not totally losing the pre/post event vibe. We pride ourselves on the atmosphere we provide at the 'event village' but that will be tricky to maintain going forward with the number of people we have at our events.
Michael: We have made a very clear Covid-19 Safety Management Plan that we stick to. We also look at all our actions before and after a race so that we can follow this plan.
We, our racers and our staff all have to take responsibility to act accordingly.
And what are the 3 biggest changes you'll make to race day for events going forward?
Michael: The changes we put in place for ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Engadin - our first race since lockdown - were:
- Limit all meetings, so the race briefing was online and the prize-giving ceremony post-race was an open air event.
- Communicate the importance of safe distancing and wearing a face mask in the race areas.
- Re-configure our energy stations so that everything is handed out by our staff (in face masks and gloves) and that everything is in individual packaging (unfortunately).
Ben: The 3 biggest changes I would say are the introduction of a 2-hour rolling start instead of the usual mass start, pre-booked 30-minute start windows, and actively trying to stop people loitering around pre and post-race.
Meredith: Rolling starts. It’s possible we will go back to a mass wave start at the Dock2Dock in years to come but for now, rolling is the safest option.
No on-the-day briefing, so people must read their race packs / online briefing - this is super important. It's important that we get clear information out and important that participants take the time to read and familiarise themselves with all aspects of registration, course layout and one-way systems.
Discouraging spectators. This one is so counter-intuitive as we're usually trying to encourage people to cheer on their family and friends. Hopefully this will be a short-term measure and in years to come we can return to the ‘event village’.
What should athletes look out for when considering safe events to sign up for?
Meredith: Look at how they're structuring their race day. Have they staggered registration? What’s the start and finish procedure like? Is there enough space for the event given the size? What other ‘Covid-safe’ procedures are they putting in place – are staff wearing masks and gloves?
Also, go with what you're comfortable with. If you're nervous about being amongst a larger group of people (socially distanced or not), look for a smaller event.
The event is supposed to be enjoyable and safe for you. Everyone has different opinions and ideas about the pandemic so you must choose what is best for you.
Ben: I think all participants should look to see that the organiser has a plan really.
I think the guidelines are pretty simple so I wouldn’t expect to see anyone trying to re-invent the wheel. Of course a plan and what happens in practice is very different, but as of yet no-one really knows how they’ll play out until they’ve run an event for the first time since the pandemic started.
Michael: I would personally look for a Covid-19 safety management plan but I would also take the majority of the responsibility myself so I'm confident I'm exposing myself to the minimum amount of risk.