New York is cancelling its annual marathon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Friday, after a fierce backlash over plans to hold the race even as New Yorkers struggle in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.
The marathon was due to start in Staten Island, the hardest-hit part of the city, where 19 people died as a result of Sandy.
It was not immediately clear if the race would be rescheduled for another date.
“The marathon has been an integral part of New York City’s life for 40 years and is an event tens of thousands of New Yorkers participate in and millions more watch,” Bloomberg said in a statement.
“The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination. We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it.”
Bloomberg had strongly backed allowing the race to proceed on schedule on Sunday, despite the continuing clean-up in the wake of Sandy, which hit the east coast on Monday night.
But by Friday afternoon, while insisting that staging the race would not divert resources from those in need, Bloomberg acknowledged that the race had “become a source of controversy and division.”
“We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event… to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track,” he said.
The decision was welcomed by James Oddo, a councilman representing Staten Island, one of the city’s worst-affected boroughs.
“Proud of New Yorkers for ensuring we as a city did the right thing. Now lets redouble our efforts to help our friends and neighbors,” he wrote on his Twitter account.
Among the 45,000 people scheduled to run, many of whom had expressed mixed feelings about participating in the race before it was cancelled, there was disappointment, but also sympathy for the decision.