Hong Kong Marathon organisers ban under 16s from 10-kilometre race
Marathon organisers are worried about the safety and health of under-16 athletes, but a top triathlete says there is no danger
Hong Kong Marathon organisers have banned under 16s from the event's 10-kilometre race, citing an "unhealthy trend" of overzealous parents and coaches pushing youngsters to train for endurance races.
Michelle Wong, the marketing manager for the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association, said the executive committee had decided on the ban because it was worried about the safety and health of young runners.
"It is an unhealthy trend because those under 16 are very young and still developing," Wong said.
The ban was to send a message to parents and coaches who may be pushing teenagers into training programmes that were "too intensive".
"Some very young runners have heavy training programmes so their running life is shortened compared to those with progressive training," Wong said.
"We are trying to promote running as a lifelong sport that you can continue to do even as you get older."
Previously, runners under 16 could enter the 10-kilometre event if they had three documents - a doctor's certificate, parental permission and an assessment from an athletics coach that showed the child was fit enough.
Wong said that ideally, 10-kilometre races were more suited to those 18 and over.
But one of the city's top triathletes, Ivan Lo Ching-hin, 24, has mixed feelings about the decision. "I agree on the safety concerns but not the health one," he said. "I'm upset and disappointed for the kids who train hard; if they can prove that, they should be allowed to race."
Lo, who coaches young athletes and is a personal trainer, ran his first 10-kilometre race when he was 14. He came third in the Standard Chartered 10-kilometre race in 2004 when he was 15.
"With a regular training programme, there's no problem for someone that age to run a 10km race," he said, pointing out that the inter-school cross-country event had high school students running distances of up to 6.5 kilometres.
But Lo has also noticed a trend of some parents pushing their children too hard, be it in sports or academically.
HKAAA chairman Kwan Kee said the ban was in line with guidelines set by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which state that "children below the age of 16 shouldn't be encouraged to take part in endurance races".
While there have been no incidents of young runners needing medical treatment after a race, Kwan felt it was better to err on the side of safety.
An estimated 600 runners under 16 competed in this year's 10-kilometre event. The half-marathon and full marathon are open only to those aged 20 and above.
About 73,000 runners are expected to turn out for the 2014 races on February 16. Registration starts this month.