Why are foreigners banned from the Pyongyang Marathon?

In the second year that foreign amateur runners were allowed to compete in the marathon, the North Korean government banned all foreign competitors from running. Why?

Wong Maye-E/FILE/AP
FILE PHOTO- Passengers wait for their luggage upon arrival at the Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, before closing its door for foreign visitors to visit the country in fear of the Ebola virus in October of last year. Tightening the screws even further on travel to their already isolated country, North Korean authorities have barred foreigners from one of the year's most popular tourist events — the annual Pyongyang marathon — because of ongoing concerns over the spread of the Ebola virus, travel agencies said on Monday.

No matter how much you've trained, if you're not from North Korea, you won't be running in this year’s Pyongyang Marathon.

The North Korean government has officially banned foreigners from racing in the annual marathon, citing concerns of an outbreak of Ebola.

The marathon, scheduled for April 12, is a big draw for tourists, reports the BBC, but strict ongoing travel bans put in place by the government in October have all but closed North Korea’s borders to outsiders.   

The announcement was made via Koryo Tours a Beijing-based tour company that was slated to bring some 500 foreigners to race in the marathon. The company had been selling tours, which included the marathon to curious travelers and runners starting at $899 with the price running as high as $2,000, according to Reuters.

"Our North Korean partners in Pyongyang contacted us this morning with news that the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon has – as of today – been closed to amateur and professional foreign runners," Koryo Tours Director Nick Bonner, told Reuters in an emailed statement.

This was later confirmed by Young Pioneer Tour, another Chinese tour company that brings travelers to the Hermit Kingdom, offering excursions to the DMZ, the Masikryong ski resort, the remote northeast of the country, and the a special economic zone of Rason.

“This morning we were able to confirm the Pyongyang Marathon (also known as the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon) has been cancelled for tourists to participate in the 2015 event due to the current Ebola restrictions placed on foreigners entering the DPRK (North Korea) which interfered with preparations for the marathon event,” Young Pioneer Tours announced on their website.

According to the Guardian, the isolated country has sealed off its borders to foreign tourists and has forced aid workers and diplomats to wait out a 21-day quarantine period as condition for being admitted into the country. Once inside, the government has mandated these individuals remain confined to their respective embassy compounds, according to the report.

There have been no publicly confirmed cases of Ebola in North Korea, or anywhere else in Asia, for that matter. 

North Korea has hosted an international marathon in most years since 1981, according to the Guardian. Over 200 foreigners competed in last year’s marathon, according to the BBC.

The North Korean government also canceled the “Mass Games” this year where athletes in school children participate in large-scale choreographed displays but no reason was cited by the authorities, according to Reuters.  

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