PHILADELPHIA – The 126th staging of the Penn Relays has cancelled due to the current novel coronavirus pandemic.

The fast-spreading coronavirus (COVID-19), which has so far killed several people, is affecting international sports events around the globe.

In 2019, the Penn Relays, contested uninterrupted since 1895, celebrated its 125th consecutive years of running.

Up to Sunday, organizers were still hoping to stage the event, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending no gathering of more than 50 people for the next 8 weeks.

“Based on the current novel coronavirus pandemic, we cannot host an event in late April without putting our participants, spectators, officials, volunteers, and staff at risk,” said Dr M. Grace Calhoun, the T. Gibbs Kane, Jr. W’69 Director of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We remain hopeful that the recent measures put in place by many health organizations, government officials, and academic institutions will curtail the spread of this disease,” Penn Relays Organizers said in a release on Monday (16 March).

In its place, Penn will endeavour to host a substitute track meet at a later date in late May or early June.

“The scope of the track meet will not be the standard Penn Relays format. The three-day event will shorten into a one-day event designed to provide the opportunity for youth, high school, and open runners to persevere and enjoy a competitive and festive atmosphere which they might have missed this spring,” the release said.

“No one associated with the Penn Relays has ever wanted to see a cancellation,” said Dave Johnson, the Frank Dolson Director of the Penn Relays.

“While participating in the meet as an athlete, coach or official remains a bucket list goal for many, the event has long served as an annual homecoming for families, friends, teams and social groups. Without the Penn Relays, springtime in Philadelphia will not be the same. We will be back for the 2021 Penn Relays on April 22 through 24 at Franklin Field, when we hope to see brighter days and be reunited with Penn Relays family.”

The Penn Relays has adapted to worldwide conditions in the past. The meet was altered in 1917 and 1918 when several colleges, including most Ivy League institutions, curtailed their track programs during World War I. During World War II; travel restrictions reduced participation and spectator attendance while gas rationing was in effect in 1943 and 1944.

“After a fantastic year planning and celebrating our first 125 years, this momentary pause will allow us to kick off the strategic vision of the next 125 years of the Penn Relays,” said Scott Ward, Executive Director of the Penn Relays.

“Promotion and exposure of the Penn Relays brand throughout the year with the creation of additional events for the track and field community of all ages is our first step. We desire to celebrate running and healthy lifestyles within the community, and we will look to reach broader markets through our events and advance our entertainment value with increased fan experience initiatives. Instead of focusing on our inability to host the event this year, we’re excited to foster resiliency and see what the future will bring.”


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