The Head Of The Charles Regatta, a two-day rowing event that usually draws large crowds to Boston and Cambridge each October, is canceled this year and athletes will instead be asked to compete by racing on their own preferred body of water or on an ergometer.
Organizers announced their decision Wednesday, saying the race could not be run while ensuring the safety of competitors, coaches, volunteers, spectators and vendors. They had evaluated a range of options and consulted about COVID-19 with infectious disease physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"Our top priority has always been to hold a regatta that is safe, fun and competitive. While we are deeply disappointed that health and safety conditions as a result of the continuation of the Covid-19 virus throughout the world prohibit us from doing that this year, our team has been hard at work to develop a global remote event to be held this October," said Fred Schoch, executive director of the Head Of The Charles Regatta. "I believe we have an innovative approach that will give athletes from around the world an opportunity to take part in a competitive event, and I am excited that we will be able to also allow many first-time participants to compete as a result of this new format. We all look forward to hosting the Regatta on the Charles in 2021."
The race began in 1965 and the only other time it was not held on the Charles River was 1996, when it was canceled due to heavy rains and strong winds.
An analysis conducted in 2019 estimated the event's economic impact at $75 million, and organizers estimate the event usually draws about 300,000 people.
It's the latest blow the virus has inflicted on sports. While three major leagues are attempting to resume games without spectators, pro basketball and hockey games have not been held since March, and the baseball season that starts each April is still not yet back on track. The Boston Marathon was unable to run in April, and its rescheduled September date was also called off due to a virus that has so far killed more than 8,000 Massachusetts residents.
Under the planned "global remote event," racers in mid-October will compete the course length -- 4,702 meters -- tracked by GPS on a body of water of their choice or using an ergometer. The lineup of events, formats and racing rules will be announced by mid-August, with registration opening on Sept. 1.
The race usually features a field of 11,000 athletes competing in sculling and sweep rowing events.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many of Boston's favorite and important traditions, but it also has proven that whenever Boston is challenged, we respond with resiliency," Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said. "I want to thank the board of the Head of the Charles Regatta which decided to reimagine this year's race as a remote event. As a city, and across all sectors, we are taking collective action to keep our residents safe and healthy. I look forward to welcoming back all of the competitors next year."
Gov. Charlie Baker recalled attending the race over the past 40 years and said he was saddened by the announcement, but understood the decision.
"Covid changes many things and it is better to be safe," Baker said in a statement. "My very best wishes to all of the competitors and we all look forward to having the Regatta back on the Charles River next year."