Insights & Analyses

Photo finish: Facial recognition deters cheaters at Beijing marathon

April 24, 2017

Organizers of a Beijing half-marathon have found a high-tech way to crack down on cheating.

Before heading to the starting line on April 16, participants in the Beijing International Running Festival’s half marathon were required by the General Administration of Sport of China to have their biometric information scanned into a database. Race organizers then used facial recognition technology to verify that runners hadn’t hired ringers or switched bib numbers during the race in an attempt to con their way to a faster time.

No reports of cheating emerged from the race, so it seems that facial recognition may be the solution to what has become an increasingly common problem at races throughout the country.

In recent years marathon running has become somewhat of a trend in China, with 2.8 million people participating in 2016 – nearly double the previous year’s total. But the sport’s newfound trendiness has led many would-be athletes to look for short cuts in lieu of putting in the miles themselves, according to a Xinhua report. Creative ways of achieving a social-media-worthy time without slogging through months of training led to dozens of disqualifications every year.

The death of a hired surrogate runner during a December marathon in Xiamen finally prompted the Chinese Athletics Association to impose stricter penalties for cheaters.

This is not the first time Chinese authorities have found creative applications for biometric technology. Last month the staff at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven park installed facial recognition-powered dispensers to cut down on toilet paper theft in public bathrooms.