China: Around The Nation

How a Beijing half marathon is cracking down on cheaters

Facial recognition system to be used in upcoming race to deter runners from employing ringers to run on their behalf, state media reports

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 3:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 4:00pm

Organisers of a Beijing half marathon are cracking down on people who try to cheat their way into getting a medal, state media reported.

About 20,000 runners are expected to take part in the race this Sunday and they will have to scan their biometric data into a facial-recognition system before they can run, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported, citing the General Administration of Sport.

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The aim is to stop competitors from getting other people to run the race for them using their running shirt number. Other forms of cheating include people carrying more than one race-tracking chip while running, the report said.

“Once I saw a man running with a woman’s number bib,” one runner told Xinhua after last year’s event. “The bib colours for male and female runners are different. Anyone who wasn’t colour blind could easily spot it, but all the referees along the route just turned a blind eye.”

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Running has gained popularity in China in recent years, with the number of marathons rising from 134 in 2015 to 328 last year.

But cheating led the Chinese Athletics Association to roll out new rules last month to punish repeat offenders with lifetime bans from marathon races.

A runner died last year after competing on somebody’s behalf to qualify for a half marathon in Fujian province.

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The Shaoguan Marathon had to nullify its race results and cash bonuses last year after discovering the winner used someone else’s bib to run the race.

Mainland media have reported that some marathoners cheat to get better results to qualify for other competitions, while others just want to show off on social media.

“The use of facial recognition software in Beijing races is not new,” long-time runner Zhang Pengfei told the South China Morning Post . It was used in an event last month, he said.

People running marathons for others under their names has also become common in China, particularly in recent years as the events have grown more popular, he added.

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“This kind of substitute running has serious implications for race organisation and safety, particularly when taking into consideration accidents and injuries in races,” said Zhang.

“Using high-tech to solve this problem is welcome. While many of these people running with other people’s bibs are not malicious, it takes away from the events and should be banned.”