Runners due to compete in this year’s London Marathon have been told that if they defer their place they may have to wait until 2023 for the chance to take part.
Race organisers have revealed that they want to give those who did not qualify for the 2020 event a chance of getting in next year, meaning that those who had secured a place but are unable or unwilling to run in October could be penalised.
The decision is likely to frustrate participants who had already trained once for the marathon, which had been due to take place on April 26 before it was cancelled due to coronavirus in March, and may yet be forced to pull out.
If the race does go ahead on October 4, large numbers are likely to defer to avoid social distancing measures which will inevitably create a vastly different experience.
An update on the London Marathon website says: “Due to Covid-19, we are unsure how many people will want to defer their entry to the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon.
“Since more than 400,000 people who applied for a place in 2020 were not successful, we believe it is important that those who didn’t get a place in 2020 are not denied the opportunity in 2021 as well.
“As a result, if you want to defer from 2020, you will be offered a choice of deferring to one of three years: 2021, 2022 or 2023. You will be asked to indicate your first choice.”
Organisers insist that they will attempt to allocate runners their preferred year but if that is not possible, a ballot will be held to determine which year they will be allocated a place.
The deferral process will be open from July 31 until October 3.
A final decision on this year’s race is expected on July 28, by which point the vast majority will already be well into their training plans for a second time this year.
Race directors are evaluating various contingencies and are “coming up with innovative ways to socially distance the event.”
They are working with other mass participation event organisers to make recommendations to the Government on how such events can return.
The race raises around £66 million for charities each year, with the thousands who normally benefit set to lose a vital lifeline if it does not go ahead.
The Great North Run, the UK's biggest mass participation sporting event, which had been scheduled for September, was cancelled last week.
Elsewhere, the Boston Marathon, which had been moved from April to September 4, has been cancelled.
The Dublin Marathon, on October 25 and the Berlin Marathon on September 27 have also been cancelled.
The Hamburg Marathon is still due to go ahead on September 13, which would likely make it the first large-scale international marathon to go ahead since the start of the pandemic.