Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thoughts on a Race Cancellation

My apologies for being absent these past few weeks! As you probably have guessed, things have been crazy. Grad school has been keeping me very busy. My parents relocated from the prairies. And if that wasn't enough, one of the bunny rabbits got really sick. Between trips to the vet, calls to my mother and studying for mid-terms, life has been nuts.

As hectic as it's been, however, I am certain that the toils of my life pale in comparison to what happened this week on the east coast with Hurricane Sandy. I sat in front of my computer, worrying, reading updates from friends in New York. But then the storm passed and our friends were all safe. And yesterday, I saw this, the announcement from the ING NYC Marathon
"The City of New York and New York Road Runners announce that the 2012 ING NYC Marathon has been canceled. While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it has become the source of disagreement and division. We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event - even one as meaningful as this - to distract attention from all the critically important work that is being done to help New York City recover from the storm. New York Road Runners will have additional information in the days ahead and we thank you for your dedication to the spirit of this race. We encourage runners who have already arrived in New York City to help with volunteer relief efforts."
The last thing I'd want to do is be overly critical of a type of decision-making situation which I have never personally experienced.  However, it's become such a big topic in the last 24 hours that I feel a need to comment.  

I understand that cancelling the race was certainly a challenging decision for race organizers, the New York Road Runners. But it makes a person wonder: why was this so difficult? Why claim no diversion of resources from those undertaking Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts? Seems like a false statement to me. Anyone who's ever observed or run in a road race knows that it takes manpower such as police and city crews to pull off such a large-scale event. In addition to all this, organizers waited until only two days before the event to make this decision when it was clear that many boroughs would not be supportive of the race going ahead. This resulted in many out-of-town runners being unable to cancel their plans and incurring costs which could have been avoided.

My gut reaction to all this is that organizers were wrong to have waited so long. The backlash they are receiving now is not unfounded. What makes it worse, is the way they have positioned the media as a combatant, citing: "extensive and growing media coverage antagonistic to the marathon and its participants." 

Screen shot from

In this day and age of being able to continually receive feedback through social media channels, I find it hard to believe that organizers were oblivious to growing negative public sentiment to continue with the race following Hurricane Sandy. It's an unfortunate situation caused by something beyond anyone's control. It became even worse when organizers refused to listen to what people were telling them - but rather, forged on stubbornly with a frustrating kind of arrogance, even going so far as to say, "this year's marathon is dedicated to the City of New York, the victims of the hurricane, and their families."

People in New York told them to cancel, media reiterated that continuing with the race was a bad idea, and even runners around the world felt it would be wrong to go ahead. It's a shame that organizers weren't able to recognize all of this at a time when they should have been paying closer attention to what New York City really needed - not a race, not a defense to continue, but a need to come together instead of pulling people apart.

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