The organisers of the Berg River Canoe Marathon have announced that the 2020 edition of the four day canoeing race from Paarl to Velddrif in early July has been cancelled as the country prepares for the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The iconic paddling race was to have been held from 8 to 11 July, but with the current projections for the spread of the novel coronavirus showing that July will be the peak of the pandemic in the Western Cape, the organisers consulted with regional and national stakeholders and, with the support of Canoeing South Africa, there was consensus that it would be impossible to stage the race in 2020.
“There was a good deal of excitement around the Berg this year, with a new organising team in charge with plans to add significant value to this iconic event, which makes it very frustrating to have to accept that we will not be allowed to host the race in July,” said race organiser Brandon Macleod.
Western Cape premier Alan Winde outlined that current modelling showed that the pandemic would peak in the Western Cape in July, adding that epidemiologists warn that at that stage the region would see around 80 000 new cases of the virus in a week.
“We looked at a variety of suggestions to try and stage the race in a way that observes all the lockdown regulations, but it is clear that the seriousness of the projections for July that there is no way we could think about holding the event safely and responsibly,” said Macleod.
He added that the remoteness of the event meant that all the participants and their support crews had to travel long distances, many of them across provincial boundaries, and were then reliant on local accommodation during the event.
“There were a myriad of factors to consider, including the support crews, safety personnel and all the requirements of the event safety plan, and in almost every instance there was an insurmountable obstacle when viewed against the projected level of the lockdown and the seriousness of the pandemic at that time.
“The Berg relies on winter rainfall, which heavily limits its date flexibility, and the possibility of postponing the race,” he added.
Regarded as one of the toughest ultra-paddling races in the world, canoeists planning to complete the 240km long odyssey need to spend months training and preparing, which has been curtailed under the current lockdown.
“As South Africans we have all had to sacrifice a huge amount in the lockdown period, and this year as paddlers we need to accept that we will not be able to enjoy the Berg Marathon, unfortunately,” Macleod added.
“2021 will be the 60th anniversary of the first Berg, and we plan to make that really special. Hopefully that will motivate the core Berg supporters to train hard to be part of that milestone event,” he added.
Canoeing South Africa president Kim Pople backed the decision to cancel the 2020 event, saying that the sport had an overarching responsibility to support the national laws designed to combat the impact of the virus.
“The organisers really tried to make it happen, but we have to meet every single regulation and requirement of the national guidelines during the lockdown,” said Pople.