Sport & Culture

Japan and China Clash…and it Doesn’t Involve an Island

A recent controversy over the Beijing Marathon shows sports may not be immune to world politics.

John Duerden

Sport can often cross cultures and heal wounds that politics and/or diplomacy cannot, but there are also times when it can’t escape from what is happening in the real world. For instance, a row erupted earlier this week over the Beijing Marathon and it comes as no surprise that the source was a problem between Japan and China.

The two nations have been at loggerheads for weeks over the disputed islands in the East China Sea, which has had an effect on sporting relations between the two countries.

In September, Chinese badminton players withdrew from a Japanese tournament over safety fears.

During the same month, a Japanese rugby team cancelled a planned game in Shanghai.

Just last week, however, Japanese skaters participated at the Cup of China Grand Prix without incident.

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The latest problem started with the application process for the Beijing Marathon which is run on November 25 and will feature around 30,000 people.

The Japanese media noticed that when applying to join the race on the race’s website, at the part when you choose your nationality, there was no ‘tab’ for Japanese. 

It was called a national shame and pointed out that there were 238 options for applicants to select their nationality -including ‘Antarctica’ – but not Japan.

The Asahi Shimbun claimed that an official from the marathon told the newspaper that “Japanese could not enter this year because of safety concerns amid the strained relations between the two countries.”

It was also reported that the applicants could participate in the marathon by selecting another nationality. The newspaper also noted that, unlike last year, there was no Japanese language version of the website.

The organisers denied that it was not their policy to bar Japanese runners to join the race.

"We welcome all runners, professionals and amateurs, who love the sport, from every country and region of the world, to apply for the event,” noted Shen Chunde, the vice-president of the Chinese Athletic Association (CAA).

According to Shen, as Japanese runners applied in groups last time, there was no individual option provided this time. "According to last year's application situation, most of the Japanese runners applied via Japanese companies as groups, and few applied on-line individually," Shen said.

"Therefore, we used the same methods as last year to accept the applications of Japanese runners in groups, which is convenient for them because it allows them to take care of each other and collect competition numbers and suits together," he said.

"We noticed the reports in the Japanese media," Shen said. "Since Japanese runners are so enthusiastic to take part in the event as individual applicants, we decided we should open the channel for them.

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"We are always eager for participants of all nationalities to feel the openness of Beijing and China."

Whatever the reason, Japanese athletes will be allowed to run 26 miles around the Chinese capital.