Xi Jinping Orders a Full Investigation Into Ultramarathon Disaster to Quell International Media Criticism

May 26, 2021 Updated: May 26, 2021

The Gansu ultramarathon disaster, which killed 21 runners, has sparked public outrage and probes from international media into the deeper issues related to Chinese politics. In order to quell the worldwide criticism, Chinese communist regime leader Xi Jinping has ordered a full investigation into the incident.

Chinese media reported on May 25 that the Gansu Provincial Communist Party committee held a meeting on May 24 to convey the instructions given by Xi and the regime’s Premier Li Keqiang. The message from the top emphasized that they have ordered a full investigation into the matter and will hold those who are responsible for the tragedy accountable. They also ordered the local authorities to come up with a plan to deal with the aftermath of the ultramarathon disaster.

The 100-kilometer (62-mile) race started on the morning of May 22 at the Yellow River Stone Forest in Jingtai county of Baiyin city in Gansu Province. The race was hit by hail, freezing rain, and gale-force winds that caused the temperature to drop to freezing. Out of the 172 participants, 21 were killed, including China’s top ultramarathon runner Liang Jing.

In a statement at a news briefing on Sunday, Baiyin officials bowed and apologized, but the Baiyin city Party Committee Deputy Secretary and Baiyin mayor blamed “a sudden change in weather” for the tragedy, without mentioning any compensation for the victims’ families or holding anyone accountable for the incident.

However, the Gansu provincial weather service had posted a report on its website on May 20 predicting a significant drop in temperature in most parts of Gansu—including Baiyin—through May 23, while the Baiyin city weather services said they notified the ultramarathon organizers the day before the event that there would be strong winds on the day of the race.

Public outrage on social media targeted the sparse resources provided by the organizers for the ultramarathon and the lack of contingency plans.

Baiyin city marathon
Rescuers carrying equipment as they search for runners who were competing in a 100-kilometer cross-country mountain race when extreme weather hit the area, leaving at least 20 dead, near the city of Baiyin in China’s northwestern Gansu Province, on May 22, 2021. (AFP via Getty Images)

The participants said there were only two volunteers at the supply points to provide drinking water, with no warm clothes or tents, while survivors complained about delayed rescues.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) said that for a long-distance race of this kind—held in a plateau area with an altitude of more than 2,000 meters (6,561 feet)—the minimum standard requires at least 500 staff to provide services. However, in this event, there were only nine staff members and the equipment was seriously insufficient. Moreover, the distance between each supply point was 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), which was too far apart and very dangerous.

Other international media outlets such as the BBC raised a number of questions about the incident, including: “Were the rescue efforts adequate?” “What mistakes might the event organizers have made?” and “What deeper issues are reflected in similar events?”

RFA revealed that the Gansu “death ultramarathon” was related to official corruption and involved up to 30 percent commission.

The organizers of the event are officials from Baiyin city and Jingtai county. They contracted with Gansu Shengjing Sports Culture Development Company to execute the event.

The company only has 20 employees, but has monopolized all marathons in Baiyin. According to RFA’s investigation, for each event it contracts with, the company has to pay up to 30 percent commission to the CCP official in charge of the local propaganda department, and a management fee of $4,600 to the regime’s Track & Field Association. Insufficient funds for the events and the reduction in manpower and supplies by the company may have contributed to the disaster.

Overseas Chinese current affairs commentator Chen Simin said in an opinion article for the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times that unlike the marathon events organized by non-governmental organizations in other countries, the CCP monopolizes all the marathon events in China. The regime is driving the rapid development of the Chinese marathon for profits, while it disregards the life and health of the contestants.