The Covid-19 pandemic is responsible for daily cancellations of events around the country, including several running races that were due to take place in the next few weeks or months.

Races above the 500 threshold for social gatherings have been called off and races that fall under that threshold have gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of participants and guarantee social distancing measures are in place and respected.

The cancellations impact thousands of recreational runners across New Zealand, many of whom have been training for months for their goal race. The disappointment is very real and only one of the many changes the pandemic has brought to people's lives.

It's not just paid events getting cancelled. This morning, Parkrun - a free weekly 5km run across New Zealand - has informed its participants that the event has been cancelled for the next few weeks.

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The discussions around this have been heated, to say the least. Online forums and Facebook groups have erupted with discussions on whether or not cancelled events should refund entry fees to the participants.

Many terms and conditions allow participants to get a full or partial refund if the race is cancelled. However, considering the huge hit the events industry will be taking, race directors are crossing fingers that participants waive their right to a refund.

Paul Charteris, founder of the Tarawera Ultramarathon and Waitomo Trail Run, explained in a post what an event cancellation looks like "on the organisers' side of the fence".

In a Facebook post, Charteris wrote about the fact that most running races in New Zealand are organised by very small businesses.

"By small, usually one person trying to support themselves and their family," he said.

He says asking for a refund, at a time like this, effectively puts the event at risk of ever happening again.

Tarawera Ultramarathon founder Paul Charteris has explained why running events are at risk if people ask for refunds at this time. Photo / Facebook
Tarawera Ultramarathon founder Paul Charteris has explained why running events are at risk if people ask for refunds at this time. Photo / Facebook

"Race Directors work bloody hard, with long, crazily stressful weeks leading up to race day. It's a job with passion - not money. The huge bulk of work and time commitments are 4-12 weeks before race day even happens."

Charteris says most of the money gathered in race entry fees gets spent well before race week.

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"About 60-70 per cent of costs are incurred [and spent![ well before race week begins. There are staff costs, purchasing capital items [like a start gantry], marketing, accommodation, clothing, medals.. not to mention the expenses associated with running a business.

"The big 'hidden' [because you will never see them] costs are associated with health and safety compliance, operational planning, people planning, land owner access etc. These can [and do] add up to hundreds of hours of work.

"On the revenue side, race entries always make up the bulk of income - but support from sponsors and sales of merchandise can easily account for 30 per cent of total income. This is income that will not happen if an event is cancelled."

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According to the race director, there is a risk that some cancelled races can never happen again, if race directors have to issue refunds to everyone despite that money having already been spent, as many of those costs cannot be recovered.

"Cancelled events lose income and cannot recover many costs. Unless the business has event cancellation insurance [which is expensive], the financial effect on the business can be extreme. The human cost can be even greater. This is felt 'down the line' for contractors and volunteer groups who make a living (or fundraising) from events," he said.

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Charteris' post resonated with race directors and event managers across New Zealand who applauded him for taking the time to explain his point of view.

A massive hit for the family

It's been a bad week for Bay of Plenty race director Tim Day. He's had to make the tough decision to cancel two events: Ring of Fire (ROF), which was meant to take place in Tongariro National Park this weekend, and Waitomo Trail Run.

"Any week that you cancel two of your events is fairly challenging," he told the Herald.

Luckily, he says most ROF entrants have said they will "take it on the chin".

"The last thing the participants want is the future of the event to be compromised," Day said.

Devoted ROFers, After NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement this afternoon that events of more than 500...

Posted by Ring of Fire Volcanic Ultra 72k, 50k, 24k & Relay Ruapehu NZ on Monday, 16 March 2020

Still, there is a lot of money lost and the events represent a big portion of the income for his family and the families of the co-organisers.

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For ROF, considering it's already race week, a good three quarters of the money made from entries has already been spent on race logistics.

"There's really only staff payments for during the event," Day said.

"A lot of our sponsor benefits won't happen. We can't expect to ask a sponsor or supplier to still pay you if they don't have the benefits.

"It's a big hit for our family. For us, it's about 30 per cent of our income for the year gone in a week just like that."

For some, the percentage is even higher.

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Ever optimistic, Day believes people will find the positive in a bad situation and explore more of their own backyard trails while also deepening a connection to the people in their local area. He counts himself lucky to have the skill to go out and hunt deer to feed his family or friends that need it.

As for the events industry, he believes it will take some time to recover.

"Even if travel restrictions come off and all that and mass gatherings are allowed again, races rely on marketing in the months leading up to it. Events won't be viable to run reasonably for quite a while."

It would literally cripple this small business

Total Sport director Aaron Carter shares the sentiment. His team made the difficult decision to cancel the iconic Partners Life DUAL race, which takes place annually on Rangitoto and Motutapu. The race was meant to take place this weekend and athletes were informed of the cancellation on Monday.

"We wholeheartedly understand your disappointment of wasted training, changed plans and missing the chance to share the weekend with fellow trail lovers – there's nowhere else we'd have rather been this weekend," Carter said.

"We've been crunching numbers to work out our position on this event, with the sole objective to understand what we can do to soften the blow we've all been delivered recently," the company said in an email to participants today.

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"This is where we've got to ... given we were so close to event day, we have invested [ie. spent] a huge amount of money on the production of this event that is no longer happening [we still can't really believe it's actually not happening]. To make this a bit more real and understandable, we want to be as transparent as we can be - we've spent around 65 per cent of the expected/budgeted income in expenses that are not retrievable. In this amount are a long list of expenses such as; staff time, insurances, rent, marketing, contractors, consents, suppliers and other operational costs.

"We hope you can appreciate why we can't afford to make cash refunds, it would literally cripple this small business. This the reason we have a no refunds clause in our policies."

Instead, Total Sport is offering participants a partial event credit.

"What we can do is offer all paid participants a partial event credit, this amount is based on giving back 100 per cent of the remaining entry revenue. The value of that credit will differ by the event that you entered and is based on the average cost for each event.

"Given the uncertainty of when the new measures will be lifted, and the dynamic nature of the world we currently find ourselves in, this credit has an infinite life. Therefore it can be applied to any of the 20 events in the Total Sport portfolio."

What you can do if your event has been cancelled

Charteris wrote a list of things for athletes to keep in mind, if their event is no longer happening.

We republish it below, with permission:

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1. Take a deep breath and be thankful that a correct and wise decision has been made for your own safety and health.

2. The organisers are feeling much worse about the situation than you are. They have put their heart and soul into the event and would have been so proud to have you at their event. They will be feeling it.

3. If you can afford to - please do not ask for a refund or a deferment to the following year. You may actually help save the very existence of the event you are trying to do.

4. Do what you can to support the people in your community whose livelihoods are most heavily impacted by this process and keep on being awesome.

What races have been cancelled/postponed?

For an updated list of all cancelled running events across New Zealand, check out updates on the NZ Running Calendar.