SHANGHAI - China will ban marathon cheats for life to clamp down on scandals that have dogged the fast-growing sport, which saw nearly three million participants across the country last year. The Chinese Athletics Association (CAA) said in a statement late Monday that people who run under false names, or cheat in other ways such as replacing a runner with another person during the race or having more than one identifying PIN chip will be banned.

First-time offenders will receive a lifetime ban from the race in which they cheated. A second offence will result in a bar for life from all Chinese marathons. The December death of a runner in a half-marathon in China's southeastern city of Xiamen threw the spotlight on distance-race cheating in the world's most populous nation.

After the man called Wu had a heart attack and died 4.5 kilometres (3 miles) from the finish line, it was discovered he was running on someone else's behalf.  Organisers later disqualified 30 of the 18,000 who had entered the race.

Wu's family last month filed a 1.2 million yuan ($174,000) lawsuit against the person who enlisted him to run and race organisers because they had failed to notice Wu running with a different coloured female bib, reported the Beijing Youth Daily.  An incentive to cheat, said the paper, was that high school students had been told they could earn credits towards university entrance examinations if they finished in the top 100 places in the race. Reasons to cheat in other events could be the lure of big prize money or the desire to show off on social media with a finisher's certificate, despite having had someone else run the race.

Long-distance running has become hugely popular in China since the country's first marathon was held in Beijing in 1981. In 2016, 2.8 million people participated in 328 marathons in 133 Chinese cities, the CAA said, 150 percent up on the previous year. The number of races is expected to hit 500 this year.

CAA's vice-president Du Zhaocai said Monday that China aims to promote healthy lifestyles by holding 800 marathons by 2020 with more than 10 million runners.