To pee or not to pee? Beijing’s marathon conundrum
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To pee or not to pee? Beijing’s marathon conundrum

The official public opening of Beijing Marathon registration last week made world headline news, but for all the wrong reasons. Organisers of the event took the spotlight when they announced that runners who urinate in public will be disqualified from this year’s race. Although public peeing from participants is regarded as acceptable behaviour in marathons across the world, Beijing authorities were none too pleased last year when participants left their mark on the historical red walls of the Forbidden City. While damp stains were a common sight around last year’s race route, public portaloos were not.

Before the last participant even shuffled across the finish line at last years race, organisers were already placing sole blame for the public peeing on the exhausted shoulders of the runners, in what they branded “uncivilised behaviour”. The contestants hit back, blaming the lack of toilets as the main driving force behind their open toilet breaks, which have apparently become an age-old tradition of an event which is notorious for its lack of facilities.

In an interview with China Daily newspaper last October, organisers justified the number of toilets available for the 30,000-plus runners, stating that there were 300 toilets located at the starting point in Tiananmen Square, with two to three toilets set-up every 5km. Therefore, over the course of a full marathon which spans just over 42km, there were no more than 24 toilets available en route, and no more than 324 public toilets in total for the event.

In comparison then to the London Marathon of 2013, race statistics show that 48,323 runners participated, with a total of 1,650 toilets available throughout the the race. In theory, that is one toilet for every 29 participants. Last years Beijing Marathon on the other hand, would have had no more than one toilet for every 93 participants. (“I suppose the queue isn’t too bad, if only I wasn’t in a race…”).

The same organising committee that brought about this wave of public urination through meager facilities and poor planning of last year’s event is now enforcing the punishment on runners for this year’s race. The committee announced it intends to provide one toilet this year for every 70 participants, as is basic requirement for public events.

Yet it still falls far short of London’s toilet-to-runner ratio, and the introduction of this new trend of race regulations the Beijing Marathon could leave an indelible stain on similar events around the world.