Extensive Punishments Imposed For Gansu Race Tragedy

THE PUNISHMENTS OF officials following the deaths of 21 competitors in an ultramarathon in Gansu on May 22 are unusually extensive. 

In all, 27 people, including several municipal government officials, face disciplinary punishment or criminal charges, according to state media,

Zhang Wenling, the magistrate (head official) of Jingtai county, has been dismissed from office. Zhang Xuchen and Su Jun, the mayor and Party chief, respectively, of Baiyin city, where the race was based, have been disciplined. Other officials were given warnings and demerit ratings.

Li Zuobi, the Party chief in Jingtai, has reportedly committed suicide on June 9 by jumping from his high-rise apartment. 

Zhang Xiaoyan, the owner of the marketing company that organised the race, Gansu Shengjing Sports and Culture Development, and four of his staff have been detained and face criminal charges. If convicted of direct responsibility, they could receive prison terms of up to seven years.

The broad sweep of the punishments suggests that there may have been attempts at a cover-up or other issues uncovered. Ding Keya and Luo Wentao, who headed the Jingtai’s propaganda department, have been referred to prosecutors for a corruption investigation.

At very least. the province is responding to public anger expressed on social media about Bayin city officals’ lack of contingency planning for the race and subsequent response to the deaths.

Runners were hit by hail, heavy rain and gale-force winds in an exposed, mountainous section of the 100-km course, causing hypothermia. Victims included elite Chinese long-distance runners Liang Jing and Huang Guanjun. Some 50 of the more than 170 competitors sheltered in shepherd’s cave’s until rescued.

A provincial-level report into the race, released on June 11, attributed the tragedy to irregular and unprofessional race organisation. Organisers were blamed for ignoring warnings of extreme weather during the 100-km race in Yellow River Stone Forest, not requiring runners to carry protective clothing and being underprepared for an emergency.

In the wake of the incident, China announced it was suspending all high-risk sports events lacking clear oversight, rules and safety standards.

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