Monday, August 13, 2007

The Running Ethicist: When an Ongoing Race is Cancelled

The Setting

There was a 24-hour race held recently, with both a relay and open division. It started on Friday night at about 7:00 p.m. to run until Saturday night at 7:00 p.m.

As a few friends were running in the open division, I stopped by at about 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.

I met a friend in the race and walked and jogged alongside for a little while. I was on my second five-km lap with him at about noon when the skies darkened and it started to rain a little. No big deal.

Or so I thought. A woman came driving around the course and said, "We are calling the race; you can have a ride back to the start if you like." I though she was joking. There was no sign of any lightning or thunder. Then someone else in another car repeated the same thing.

We got back to the start/finish area and a lot of participants, both relay and individual, had already left. The organizers were furiously packing things up into cars and trucks.

No one seemed to be complaining too much, but I was incredulous. The weather did not seem anywhere severe enough to cancel the race. It seemed to me they could have advised people to be careful, or at worst make people wait for a few minutes while the impending storm passed through. After all, the runners had invested nearly 18 hours into the event by that point, not to mention the training, the travel time and attendant costs, not to mention the $80 entry fee.

I remained at the race site with a few others. We sat under a tent and watched the rain and chatted for a while. After a bit, the rain stopped and the sun came out. By that time everyone was gone, and it was only 1:30 p.m.. There was supposed to be 5 1/2 hours left in the race! The sun was out for most of the rest of the day.

The Questions

Were the race organizers within their rights to cancel the event? Should the participants have had a say in whether this race were allowed to continue? Did signing the race entry waiver exempt the race organizers from any laibility issues that may have arisen from potentially bad weather? Should race entrants have received refunds of their entry fees? Or do particiopants completely turn over all rights when they sign up for an event? Share your thoughts with the running ethicist.

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