Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, mass gatherings are still prohibited in the state. Such restrictions include thousands of endurance sports events held annually statewide.
According to the California Coalition for Endurance Sports, the state has more than 8,000 annual endurance sporting events ranging from local fundraiser walks to international triathlon competitions. These events attract more than 2.5 million participants each year and raise more than $70 million in charity fundraising.
Unlike most other states, California does not have guidelines in place for safely reopening endurance events. The Coalition has created safe return guidelines that leaders hope state officials will approve so that these thousands of events can resume.
“I really believe you can have an endurance sports event that is safer than going to the grocery store,” said Paul Huddle, senior regional director for the Ironman Group, which hosts Ironman 70.3 Oceanside.
The problem lies with the fact that the endurance sports industry doesn’t have its own set of guidelines separate from other mass gathering industries like live concerts and arena games.
“There are guidelines for other industries but no guidelines for our industry,” said Mike Bone, President of Spectrum Sports Management, which hosts the annual Bike the Coast marathon.
Endurance sports events are different than live concerts and festivals, Huddle said. For example, running, cycling, triathlons, swimming and surfing events have very few high-touch points. They also happen outdoors, and participants are constantly moving.
“They’re by nature socially distant,” Huddle said.
Rather than wait for state officials to create guidelines for endurance sports, the Coalition took matters into its own hands. Using parameters that have worked for events in other states as well as the Center for Disease Control guidelines, the Coalition developed a COVID-19 mitigation plan for endurance events to follow.
“I think our industry and all its players have figured out some great safety protocols,” Bone said.
In the past, participants could arrive whenever they wanted. That could mean hundreds of people showing up at once, which would present a problem in today’s COVID-19 restricted world.
“Now, you have to schedule a time for a safe amount of participants to arrive,” Huddle said.
This new registration process is not only safer, but it is also more convenient.
“Participants love being able to show up and not have to stand in line to wait,” Huddle said.
Other race-day practices that have been modified include staggered starts, pre-packaged food at the finish line without festivals, aid stations to emphasize social distancing and mandatory face covering when not racing.
Coalition members urge the state to quickly approve the guidelines they have created to save the state’s endurance sports industry as well as its tourism industry from further damage.
Cities like Oceanside collect transient occupancy taxes (TOT) from tourists through hotel stays, which go into the city’s general fund.
Oceanside has seven endurance sporting events, which represent more than $12 million in direct visitor spending. Ironman 70.3 alone generates more than $3 million.
Endurance sports events also generate quite a lot of money for the city in other ways.
According to Leslee Gaul, CEO and president of Visit Oceanside, approximately 74% of visitor spending is on other sectors than lodging. Of that amount, dining receives the most with 29% of visitor spending going to restaurants.
Bone said the industry can’t afford to wait much longer for the state to approve guidelines because of how long it takes to plan endurance sporting events.
If guidelines don’t get approved soon, Coalition members fear all 2021 events will be compromised. They also worry that California will lose its endurance sporting events to other states in the process.
“We want and need something now,” Bone said. “We can’t wait until the numbers come down to get the guidelines.”
“If we don’t have guidelines now, we won’t have opportunities to host endurance sporting events when the time is right,” Gaul added.
To help the industry’s cause, Visit Oceanside has partnered with InjureFree, a COVID-19 monitoring app that is available to city events for simple health screening and contract tracing of all participants, volunteers and staff. The system can be used with the existing registration platforms for endurance events.
Bone, Huddle and Gaul encourage residents to contact their state legislators to emphasize the need for safe return guidelines for the endurance sports industry.