Two things were always going to set Sunday’s Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon apart. It was the first such race since the Covid-19 pandemic began, reflected in a much reduced entry of 18,500 and absence of elite overseas runners. It was also the first since the social unrest of 2019 prompted Beijing to impose the national security law last year, reducing tolerance toward expression. A comparatively subdued atmosphere and increased police presence around the finish in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, reflected both factors. It was far from an ideal background for a rare mass participation event. But, to their credit, the organisers and runners turned it into a joyous celebration of the city’s recovery from a double blow that would have daunted a less resilient society. If only that were all there was to report about the return of an iconic event. Sadly, there was a discordant note, to be found in examples of political sensitivity that now abounds in the wake of the passage of the national security law. Several entrants told of being asked to cover tattoos, logos or slogans on their clothing after organisers warned they would reject those who broke the law or the event’s rules. This was after organisers maintained they bore no responsibility for runners complying with the national security law, before coming under pressure from government officials to take a firmer stance. One slogan in question was “Hong Kong add oil” – a common phrase of encouragement used to support Olympic athletes, for example, and not confined to political or protest activity. There is nothing in the rules of the event against slogans or, for that matter, words like “Come on Hong Kong” on clothing. And there was a lack of clarity among volunteers, who said they had been given no instructions to prevent runners competing based on clothing. That is not to say there were no contestants who were testing the water with slogans, logos or tattoos. Both competitors and security officials need to understand, from their own perspectives, that sport and politics don’t mix. That is testament to the complexity of the issue. It was unfair to dump the responsibility on event officials without authoritative clarity for everyone concerned about what can be legally tolerated and what cannot.