June 10, 2014
The “Bibgate” incident happened months ago, and I think this is a good time to reflect on it.
For those who don’t know, “Bibgate” was the name being passed around running circles about some unsavory activities at the Boston Marathon. It was first brought to my attention when the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) posted something cryptic about reviewing results. Later, a few articles like this one and this one detailed what happened and had the photos to prove it. There were a lot of people photographed wearing identical bibs at the Boston Marathon. That means several people ran the race illegally. This whole mess brings up uncomfortable topic of race ‘bandits.’
As it turns out, Kara Bonneau, the legitimate owner of one of Bib 14285 was as duped as the organizers. She posted a photo of her bib on Instagram, and some intrepid fraudsters printed forgeries and ran the Boston Marathon illegally. I guess the unfortunate lesson here is that you shouldn’t post photos of your bib before a race.
You’ll see that my ‘lawful good’ character alignment will come out very strongly in the paragraphs to come…
WHY BANDITING IS WRONG
I acknowledge the arguments from bandits who try to justify their actions:
-Races are too expensive
-Races sell out really fast
-Races are hard to qualify for
-It’s a ‘victimless’ crime
I’m going to refute these in order because they are lame excuses that make me really mad:
Although I acknowledge that races cost money, that doesn’t justify what amounts to theft! Thousands of people pay the full registration price. And many fundraise hundreds or thousands of dollars for the privilege of running these races. Bypassing the payment is an insult to those who sacrificed to be there.
I also strongly disagree with ‘banditing’ a race in misguided crusade of anarchy or anti-capitalism.
Yes, some of these races do turn a small profit, but what about races that are fundraisers? Furthermore, there and huge, genuine expenses that the registration pays for: These expenses include permits, venue rentals, police for road closures, medical staff. Even if you don’t get the race kit, chip timen or medal, there are still expenses that you’d ‘steal’ by banditing a race. On a sidenote, if you’re cowardly enough to illegally enter a race, are you really brazen enough to steal a medal too??
Still on the topic of cost: It’s not that much! For any other sport, participating in sanctioned events can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some races cost over $100, but it’s not hard to find races for $40-50. And if that’s too much, there are legitimate ways to run races for free like volunteering as a pacer, at the expo, or helping to set-up. A fellow runner helped set up tents the day before the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon a couple years ago and got a free race entry for her time. There are ways to do this fairly on the cheap!
I acknowledge with a touch of sadness that races sell out really fast, or use a lottery system that limits access. There are a couple of races I wanted to do that sold out in minutes (i.e. DisneyLand Dumbo Challenge, Marine Corps Marathon), and others where I have to hope I win a lottery (e.g. New York Marathon). For the lottery races, we’re all in the same boat, so the lottery is fair and bypassing it with theft is an insult to all those who play by the rules.
For other races fair is fair too. As a long-distance runner, you’re planning window should be 9-12 months in advance anyways. The major races all announce when their registration opens, and may even annoy you with their spam through e-mail, expos, social media and print media (e.g. Runner’s World). So if you aren’t ready to register for a majorly popular race when registration opens, you don’t deserve to run that race!
Certain races are hard to qualify for, but those who violate that gate insult all those who are trying to do it fair and square. Perhaps the most egregious element of ‘Bibgate’ is that it happened at the Boston Marathon. For those who don’t know, the qualifying times for the Boston Marathon are some of the most stringent in the world, and it takes incredible dedication for an athlete to earn the moniker of Boston Qualifier. I have a pipe-dream of qualifying for Boston, a dream I admit I may never accomplish. It’s disappointing to think that someone can run my dream race through fraud.
Considering the costs of running races and the effort legitimate runners take in qualifying and being organized enough to register in time for races, I think I’ve made my point that banditing is not a victimless crime!
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Actually preventing banditing is a complicated proposal.
Some races are getting pretty vigilant about pulling people without bibs off the course. Many races make it very clear that people who don’t have their bibs displayed will not be allowed near the finish line and pulled off the course. I’ve seen it done at Chicago and ATB. However, if someone is wearing a forged bib, they’ll get by a cursory inspection.
Admission to a most events is done by tickets. Admission to races is done by the bibs. They’ve managed to limit ticket fraud. Could they do the same thing with bibs?
People can make high-quality photocopies or prints of bibs. These forgeries may me indistinguishable from the genuine article, so that’s a hard route to discourage.
I read a suggestion that the runners’ photos should be on the bibs. Unfortunately, a good forger could beat that too.
Naturally, bandits won’t have timing chips. Perhaps they need to check the chips entering corrals? That doesn’t combat those who join mid-course, but it’s better than nothing.
Races largely rely on an honour system. I imagine all my readers would be honourable folks. But, if you knew someone that was being a bandit, would you rat them out? I’m not sure I could…
What do you think about Bibgate?
How do you feel about ‘bandits’?
What can be done?